Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research

Interview With Regina Nguyen (SMU Lyle School of Engineering)

by Aya Bellaoui ’24

Regina Nguyen is a second year student majoring in Civil Engineering. She is involved in Asian Council, Gamma Phi Beta, and research!

During her first year of college, Nguyen was on the brink of leaving the engineering department and changing majors because she could not see herself doing the work she was learning about. After some discussion with her Intro to Civil Environmental Engineering professor, Dr. Smith-Colin, she proposed an incoming summer research opportunity. To Nguyen, this sounded much more different and interdisciplinary, so she decided to give it a try. During one of her class periods, Dr. Zarazaga gave a speech which further sparked Nguyen’s interest. She later reached out to Dr. Zarazaga and realized she works closely with Dr. Smith-Colin. In the end, both Dr. Smith-Colin and Dr. Zarazaga worked with Nguyen as her mentors throughout the research project.


Dr. Zarazaga and Dr. Smith-Colin provided Nguyen with the ideal independent structure that allowed her the freedom to work on her own but still feel supported. Because of their guidance, she knows the direction she is working toward and what deadlines she needs to meet. Nguyen finds the project to be fun and relaxed because her mentors give her the room to do what she needs to do when and wherever she needs to do it, but when she needs a helping hand, they are there for her.

Nguyen is also grateful to be working with graduate student Collin Yarbrough because he provided her with the necessary literature to review before beginning the project, and continues to give Nguyen oversight and assistance throughout her think sessions. She is grateful for the tools Yarbrough has given her throughout the research process.

Additionally, Nguyen collaborates with undergraduate student, Odran Fitzgerald, to share the project responsibilities. Both students have different fields of study but work on the same deliverables. After finding literature online and forming drafts, Fitzgerald and Nguyen provide each other feedback before handing it over to the mentors.


Nguyen partook in the 2021 Summer Research Intensive where she claims to have learned very valuable lessons. She enjoyed listening to weekly insightful workshops and learning about the various resources available on campus that she did not previously know of. She enjoyed having some structure in her research project and creating a three-minute thesis presentation which enabled her to lecture others about what she is passionate about. Nguyen got the opportunity to meet people and learn how to complete a literature review, which expanded her network and knowledge. Learning about other students’ work was an inspiring, educational experience for Nguyen. For example, learning about the various unique ways in which other students formatted their work allowed to her better format hers. Technical communication was another learning curve for her because analyzing how others explained and described things taught her how to rephrase things to make them easier to understand. Nguyen became confident in her presentation skills by the end of the research-intensive program.


Nguyen worked closely with a group in Garland, Texas to advocate for proper community cleanup. The team used CBPAR (Community-Based Participatory Action Research) to collaborate with all stakeholders and community members throughout their research. Any deliverable or product Nguyen makes (not physical deliverables, just outcome) is completely based on what the community wants fixed. Nguyen has been asking the community about their needs and applies it to her deliverable work.  She claims it is like consulting work, or a feedback loop. Nguyen first asks the community members about the situation and contamination. After the members’ responses, her role as a researcher is to then figure out how to help the citizens advocate for their specific community needs. She specifically utilizes CBPAR and Cleanup Garland to help communities communicate their concerns and risk. Her sub focus is to understand how community groups interact with these greater entities (the city for example) to see what gaps exist between them and determine how outside researchers confess interacting with these groups and make sure their needs are met. Nguyen stresses that infrastructure causes long-term and serious effects on daily life, so it is crucial that issues are resolved equitably and thoroughly.


Nguyen initially had an idea for a deliverable that would be the final product, but over the summer she realized it would not be a feasible solution because Cleanup Garland does not have the access to the necessary tools. Despite the unexpected outcome, it ended up pathing a path for a better route for Cleanup Garland. Nguyen would not have come to this conclusion if not for the trial and error, and her consistent communication with Cleanup Garland.


Ms. Lydia Allen, the Writing Center Director, and Dr. Adam Neal, the Assistant Director of Research, served as spectacular resources for Nguyen. Ms. Allen provided her with an organized template to better format her research report and helped her put together a successful paper. Dr. Neal helped Nguyen put together a quality three-minute presentation.


Short-term, Nguyen hopes to continue helping Cleanup Garland resolve their challenges and barriers. She would also like to stay involved with research throughout school. Long term, she hopes her experiences will properly prepare her for the field of academia (post phD). She also wishes to do more community-based work in the future.


Nguyen is currently in the prototyping stage of the project. One of their deliverables is a series of infographics for the community to distribute around each other so that everyone is more informed of the risks and how they can keep themselves safe. They are currently working on more of those infographics which they will then send out for feedback. They also have some mapping activities that they will be doing to consolidate all the community information and some of the sampling data from the past.

The team’s main goal is to help Cleanup Garland access resources that will enable them to continue advocating for themselves and making sure the citizens remain well-informed about the situation and how they can communicate to the rest of their community.


Ask questions! Nguyen would not have gotten into research if she had not asked questions. It also enables you to be confident you are doing things correctly and are heading down the right path!

Thank you, Regina Nguyen!

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