Alumni Spotlight: Kimberly Tran

TMCC Alumna Kimberly Tran is a student at Stanford University.
Rebecca A. Eckland

TMCC alumna Kimberly Tran has always been drawn topics in STEM, and in particular, programming classes, because they invite her to explore a new kind of problem-solving. “Computer science makes us break the problem down into steps so that it is digestible, so that a computer can do it. The process frames the world in a different way,” she said. 

Tran cites an example from a recent class in which she built a program that would help someone plan the most efficient way to book flights from their destination to their desired location. “One of the biggest things that programs do is that they optimize,” she said, explaining that a person who wants to travel from point A to point B requires the programmer to frame the problem in an algorithmically tractable way for efficient problem-solving.

“[As a programmer] you often need to find a way to quantify the world based on your identified goal. And then you formulate an equation, essentially, that acts as a way to evaluate the best solution while taking into account other factors like price and time. That way you can systematically find out the best path based on your individual needs. That’s why it’s so interesting. When people go through life, generally we just do what we know, and we don’t question how or why things happen.  I think computer science forces us to frame things and to be aware of ‘how’ or ‘why’ things happen,” she said. 

This intentional form of decision-making is what defines this TMCC’s alumna’s journey. From a young age, Tran was drawn to classes, and a career, in a STEM field. With parents who both worked in computer science and electrical engineering, the world of critical, logical problem-solving was one with which Tran was comfortable. Tran was only in middle school when she heard about TMCC High School, and the opportunity to start her college education years in advance was something she definitely wanted to do. 

“I started at TMCC when I was 15 and my first class was Math 181: Calculus I,” she remembers. “I knew I wanted to study engineering-related topics, and so I took math and science classes because that is where my strength and academic ability resides.” Yet, it was Tran’s English 101 class that stands out as the most memorable. 

“It was one of my early exposures to how life isn’t just black and white, but it’s really more gray,” she said. Listening to other students’ ideas and arguments also reinforced the processes she used in Computer Science courses: decisions can be mapped, but the possibilities for how those maps are constructed can be infinite. 

Creating Community: Join the SGA

A former Student Government Association (SGA) President who began the research and advocacy process for TMCC’s Athletic Program, soccer field, and fitness center, Tran’s start in the SGA—and in occupying leadership roles on campus that would make a big difference to the college—began by chance. Tran admits that when she came to TMCC, she was a shy student with “her head in her books.” However, a friend encouraged her to consider applying to run for the SGA, an opportunity that sounded cool, even as Tran wondered if she could actually fulfill the role. “I remember thinking that I would love to do that. But, I just didn’t know if I was the right person,” she said. Yet, when Tran accompanied a friend to the SGA office to fill out his candidacy application, she was asked if she was interested in running for the SGA as well. 

The rest, as they say, was history. “I started off as a Senator, and then the following year, I became President. And that was how I became even more involved in the TMCC community,” she said. When she was only 17, Tran presented the proposed athletic program to the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) Board of Regents, a proposal which was ultimately accepted and allowed for the official groundbreaking ceremony, which took place in 2018. 

Serving as an SGA Senator and later as SGA President were opportunities for her to develop not only lifelong friendships, but professional skills that she will use in her education and career moving forward. “It was honestly my first official job, and helped me to develop general skills and prepared me for more serious roles in the future. I learned about event coordination, etiquette and communication and a slew of other skills through projects I worked on in my role as a Senator,” she said.

As SGA President, Tran further developed her professionalism, adding leadership skills to her growing repertoire. “I had to learn about the subtleties between the ways people communicate and how to manage people on a professional level.” 

Living the Dream: Going to Stanford

Tran had one dream from a very young age: attending Stanford University in California. As she neared the completion of her associate degree at TMCC, Tran weighed her many academic options to pursue her degree and interest in electrical engineering.  “Stanford and MIT were at the top of the list of schools that I applied for... I got into a few other good ones too, but I ultimately picked Stanford,” she said. 

That institution offered her what she had come to appreciate about her time at TMCC: a place where there would be the opportunity to build meaningful and lasting relationships and pursue a variety of interests in STEM and beyond. “They really encourage you to explore different ideas. And that was something that really resonated with me, especially with what my experience had been at TMCC.”

In her years at Stanford, Tran’s interests have, in fact, evolved. “Essentially, I’m pursuing a degree that combines the fundamentals of business and engineering,” Tran explained. “I get a taste of hardware, software, and different aspects of business ranging from financial decision-making, management, leadership... What ultimately led me to make that change was that I love STEM, but through my experience in student government and working with people, and finding my way in that leadership role, I realized I really love business as well and I can see myself taking more leadership roles in the future.” 

And yet, Tran’s fascination with the mechanics of making informed decisions remains steadfast. Her favorite class this semester examines entrepreneurial decision-making. “It forces us to look at our core principles and values to figure out how to navigate the decision-making process in tough situations,” she said. Although Tran has an eye on graduate school where she would pursue a degree focused on artificial intelligence and machine learning, she has a position in New York City at a consulting firm waiting for her once she finishes her undergraduate degree.

Tran’s education and interests have taken her far from the place and the person she was when she first came to TMCC as a shy 15-year old, yet she continues to see value in TMCC where she learned her diverse passions for STEM topics and leadership.  

To other TMCC students, she offers the simple yet powerful advice: take opportunities that come your way. “Don’t be afraid to say ‘yes’ to things... sometimes it might be a job, or joining clubs—all of that can help you to build a network at TMCC.  [But it could also be resources.] A lot of resources that TMCC provides are under-utilized. So...apply and seek out those opportunities because you never know.” 

For someone who loves understanding processes on personal, mechanical, and professional levels, the decision to attend TMCC all those years ago was a good one. “My life was forever changed by going to TMCC. I grew so much as a person, and I don’t know if I would be where I am today without the community I had there,” she said. 

TMCC 50th Anniversary Celebration 

As a part of TMCC’s 50th Anniversary Celebration for the 2021–2022 academic year, we will be highlighting the success stories of our amazing alumni. Check back with our anniversary website for more details of the ongoing celebration or send your alumni success stories to our Marketing and Communications team.