Public health graduate’s humanitarian impact spans local and international communities

In Irvine, the interplay of town and gown can be seen everywhere. A world-class research university like UCI attracts smart, diverse and talented people who often stay in Irvine after graduation to settle down and continue to contribute to the community. Our alumni enrich the city’s quality of life and economy by strengthening its workforce, supporting local businesses, and donating time and energy to worthy causes. Uplifting our region is at the heart of all we do, and we’re proud of our past and present students for helping drive Irvine’s success and future.

Uyen Thanh Mai’s story

One student – a Dalai Lama Scholarship recipient – who’s poised to make a major contribution is Uyen Thanh Mai. The daughter of Vietnamese refugees, she grew up learning about her family’s hardships as a result of the Vietnam War. They were able to relocate to the U.S. with the help of humanitarian organizations and government assistance. Mai now attends UCI and intends to use her public health degree to provide the same support to others in vulnerable positions.

It’s no surprise that Mai found a home on our campus. When it comes to enabling low-income applicants to achieve success, no university can match our track record. UCI has twice topped The New York Times’ College Access Index of U.S. universities, based on their commitment to economic diversity. The newspaper has also recognized UCI as the college “doing the most for the American dream."

Mai graduated this June with a B.S. in public health sciences and minors in philosophy and international studies. She plans to then earn an M.D.-Ph.D. to both provide medical care and conduct research to improve health outcomes in at-risk populations, particularly refugees and immigrants. She was inspired by the documentary “Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders.” 

“Doctors Without Borders is one of the main reasons I wanted to pursue medicine and/or humanitarianism when I was younger,” Mai says. “I remember how my mom, who is also a healthcare worker and my biggest role model, was also inspired by their heroism.”

Uyen Thanh Mai

As an undergrad, Mai is already making an enormous difference in the community and beyond. She led a photojournalism project highlighting the medical struggles of homeless and undocumented people in Santa Ana; coordinated a publication focused on undergraduates’ physical and mental health experiences; and humanized the narratives of North Korean refugees, who are often misrepresented in the media. She has also helped set up clinics in rural Ghana and worked on a women-run farm in Nepal. 

Mai interned at the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to learn how policy can impact health outcomes. As the Dalai Lama Scholar for 2020-21, she provides virtual companionship to hospice care patients and seniors in an adult care facility. In addition, Mai is director-general of UCI’s Model United Nations, a role in which she organizes international awareness conferences for high school and college students. 

Our success is your success

If you want to support rising movers and shakers like Mai, please consider contributing to our Brilliant Future campaign. True to UCI’s mission, these students tackle the great challenges of our times and serve the community in truly meaningful ways. Through the Brilliant Future campaign, we will continue to fund these bright, ambitious leaders on their journeys to make the world a better place.