Principal Broker of The Colin Group

How did your interest in education begin? 

Coming from a low-income family, and living in subsidized housing, the thought of attending college never crossed my mind. During my early teenage years, I found myself hanging with the wrong crowd, joining a gang, getting into fights,  taking drugs, and held at gunpoint by a rival gang member. My life was going nowhere and everyone gave up on me—everyone except my mom. 

After coming home from a gang brawl one evening, my mom was waiting for me at the kitchen table. Instead of scolding me, my mom simply sat there and cried. It was that moment that my mother told me she had terminal cancer and the doctors gave my mom less than two years to live. My mother's dying wish for me was to attend college. At the age of 16, for the love of my mom, I decided to turn my life around. I would come home from work each evening and study for endless hours; I turned my D average in the 9th grade to graduating as one of the top of my high school class with a 3.7 GPA. 

Oftentimes, fate leads us to paths that we never expected. That year, Kimberly Mitchell wrote the proposal to the Gates Foundation that eventually gave me the financial means to attend college through the College Success Foundation. 

My mother's passion for education was the spark that ignited my interest for education. I went on to attend the University of Washington, majoring in economics, and graduated in 2006. 

How have you been involved in education, professionally or as an advocate, over the years? 

In 2015, I had the honor of being asked to be the keynote speaker for College Success Foundation. That day, with the help of 800 people in our audience, College Success Foundation raised over $400,000 to give underprivileged students an opportunity to attend college. 

I genuinely believe that systemic change starts within the mindset and belief system of our younger generation. Many times each year, I've been honored to be a guest speaker for many of our local high schools. Sharing my personal story and background has given thousands of high school students an understanding of how higher education can change their lives for the better, and as a result, help them and their families for the years to come.

What education issues are you most passionate about (and why)?

The compelling ideals of bridging the education gap for underprivileged children has always had a big place in my heart.  I personally believe that education is the most important variable to social and economic equality.  By showing an underprivileged child the path to college or higher level education, these children can live their life by design rather than default to being the product of their environment.  Personally, the educational opportunities that I've received have not only changed my life, they have changed my parents' life, my daughter's life, and our future generations.  It all starts with one individual, one child at a time, and the help from people around them.

Tell us about an educator who made particular large impact on your life.

Mrs. Rubel.

I was seven years old when our family left Vietnam and immigrated to the United States with $80 in my father's pocket. During one particular English class, some of the other kids made fun of me because of my accent and the fact that I could not read. I still remember walking home from school that day, with tears rolling down my eyes, and wished I wasn't called a dumb immigrant. A few weeks later I approached Mrs. Rubel, my English school teacher, and asked if I could stay after school to get some help with my reading. Her time, kindness and grace made me a lifelong reader, and stoked my passion for books. 

Today, I'm proud to have a grand book shelf in my home office, filled with hundreds of books that I have read throughout my life. It was her benevolence that built the foundation for my love of books and continuous learning. Like Mrs. Rubel, I've been blessed with many mentors along my life such as Sol Avzaradel, Albie Moshcatel and my brother who has helped me become the person that I am today.

Share an unusual/fun fact about yourself.

Our family emigrated from Vietnam in 1990. During my childhood, I always wanted a photo with Santa for Christmas. Looking back, my mom was the greatest salesperson in the world. Each Christmas, my mother would come up with a very legitimate excuse or found a loving way to not get a Santa photo for me. Either Santa didn't look right or the line was too long, and I'd end up forgetting about the whole idea. After so many years of asking for the Santa photos, I finally gave up. As an adult, I realize that the cost of that Santa photo during my childhood would have cost an equivalent of a third of our rent money.

Life either happens to or for us. I'm a firm believer that everything in life happens for a reason and there's always a lesson that we can learn from each of our experiences. 

About five years ago, my real estate team started our first Holiday Toy Drive for Seattle Children's Hospital. Every December, we host a fun holiday party filled with food, entertainment and free Santa photos for everyone in the community.  I personally hire a professional photographer and Santa for this holiday event. This past Christmas, with the help of friends, family and our community, our team was able to donate of over 800 toys to Seattle Children's Hospital, enough for every child last Christmas. Through the peaks and valleys in life, it's oftentimes the valleys that give us a chance to redefine who we really are. I realize that our greatest success often evolves from the seed of our challenges.

Thank you again for the opportunity to share some of our family life experiences and our passion for education. I am honored be a member of such a world class ambassador board.