Thao “Joe” Nguyen was found dead March 3 by Drexel Public Safety personnel in her room in Caneris Hall after a concerned friend called about her. Nguyen was a sophomore English major and art history minor in the College of Arts and Sciences, in addition to being an active member of the Foundation of Undergraduates for Sexual Equality and the Honors Program in the Pennoni Honors College.
“Joe was always really kind to everyone. She was the type of person that could find something she liked about everyone. She loved art and found things enlightening in life. She always had a different hairstyle, and I always loved how she dressed,” Paulina Stehr, a freshman animation major, said.
Stehr met Nguyen at a FUSE meeting during the fall term. They would often take walks into Center City and meet up for lunch on campus.
“When walking through Center City one day, we saw a homeless woman sitting on the side of the street. She gave her the coffee she was holding, and I followed suit. The next time we went out, we handed out bags of pita chips to everyone who looked like they needed it. She was really inspiring as a human,” she wrote in an email.
Kathryn Wisniewski, a sophomore electrical engineering major, met Nguyen through a mutual friend from their hometown of Parkville, Md., after both decided to attend Drexel. The two often went to FUSE meetings together and spent time together on campus.
“She loved giving people presents and compliments as much as possible just so she could see the smile on [their] face. She had a huge, kind heart. She had such a way with words, and she was a big dreamer. She was so passionate about what she believed in and would have gone far in life,” Wisniewski wrote in an email.
“Joe was full of passion and strength in the face of adversity and had an insatiable appetite for social justice,” Maureen Nolan, president of FUSE and a junior corporate and public relations major, wrote in an email.
Nguyen worked with Abioseh Porter, head of the Department of English & Philosophy, as his research assistant from August to December 2012. Porter was fulfilling his duties as editor of the Journal of the African Literature Association while working on a monograph of the latest war writings in French and English by African authors. Nguyen was responsible for finding and checking all available primary and secondary sources for both projects.
“She seemed destined to become a fine writer with wonderful editorial potential and a sensible eye for art,” Porter wrote in an email. According to Porter, Nguyen already had a poem published.
Porter wrote that Nguyen could best be described through a quote by Shakespeare: “[Her] life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in [her], that nature might stand up and say to all the world, ‘This was a [woman]!’”
Porter first met Nguyen when he interviewed her to work with him. The conversation transitioned to her passion for art history after she saw a photograph he had of Sagrada Familia, a cathedral in Barcelona.
“She made a point of correcting me with the full knowledge of a budding expert every error (real or perceived) that I had made. That interesting discussion and her genuine sense of curiosity prompted me to work with her. I shall forever remain grateful for the experience,” he wrote.
Any student who needs support can call Drexel’s Counseling Center at 215-895-1415 during business hours or 215-416-3337 any other time.