As Jimmy Thai '90 was leaving The Preuss School UCSD after giving a presentation to a roomful of teens, a student approached him and said, "Mr. Thai, thank you so much; you really gave me hope. I'll remember this talk for the rest of my life."
Jimmy's gift to that boy and the others was his own story, a journey that began as a child in the hopelessness of war-ravaged Vietnam. As a teen on his own, he escaped 15 times, was imprisoned twice and finally reached Thailand. In 1984 he made his way to America, and at the age of 20, his life started over.
Speaking virtually no English, Jimmy enrolled at San Diego Miramar College, then "upgraded" to Mesa College by working furiously on his language skills, appreciatively washing cars and scrubbing toilets to pay for his educational dream. In 1986, UC San Diego opened a door.
"Even with my broken English, UCSD gave me a chance, and that privilege has had a profound effect on my philosophy. I came, I studied hard and learned. The respect I feel for UCSD for giving me that chance to earn my first degree, that's what I talked about with The Preuss School kids," he says.
Jimmy earned a degree in electrical engineering and went on to earn a master's degree in the same field and an MBA at California State Universities Fullerton and San Marcos, respectively. He learned to balance a full-time job, continuous education and raising a family, and today he is vice president of technology for Science Applications International Corporation.
Jimmy and his wife Lily share a passion for education, and specifically access to college, as a way to elevate disadvantaged children from poverty and social inequality. Jimmy has created the Leadership Foundation Academy to build schools in rural Vietnam and develop compassionate leaders, and he has left a legacy gift to UC San Diego in his estate plan.
With two daughters approaching their college years, he says, "I told my wife the girls will have a world-class education here in California. We don't have to send them to Harvard. We can do a lot more for less-fortunate children with that money." This is why he has remembered the university in his estate and has designated his gift toward The Preuss Graduate Scholarships Fund at UC San Diego.
Open Doors of Opportunity
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