From Vietnam to Space: A Journey of Resilience and Exploration

Author: Omar Dedovic

Last Updated:

Category: Featured

As a young man who overcame tremendous adversity to pursue an education, Cap Nguyen (’80) ultimately realized his dreams that spanned continents, an ocean and space.

Born in the early stages of a war-torn Vietnam, Cap faced the ultimate challenge at the age of 17. Just a month shy of graduating high school, the Vietnam War ended for all parties with the Fall of Saigon, prompting Cap and his family to flee hurriedly. Cap recalls having ten minutes to pack his bag and leave the life he knew on a fishing boat for an unknown destination. “In the boat, there were about 40 people, most of them my siblings, friends and parents,” Cap recalls. “Some of my siblings were in the army, so they were left behind still fighting.”

Cap Nguyen (middle) and his family arriving to Chattanooga.

Cap’s ocean journey led him to different countries, each offering temporary shelter and an uncertain future. Eventually, the family found themselves in Guam, then in Florida and finally landing in Chattanooga through a sponsorship by Red Bank Baptist Church.

The transition to a new country and culture was not without its challenges. However, Cap’s determination led him to secure a job as a janitor and later as a parts clerk, helping support his family while pursuing education at night. With a passion for engineering, Cap lacked a high school diploma and transcripts due to the upheaval of fleeing Vietnam. “I had no transcript because I left in a hurry, except my Vietnamese ID and immigration ID.” Through grit, determination and the support of others, he gained admission to UTC by completing academic and language testing.

While working multiple jobs and raising a family, Cap graduated from UTC with honors in electrical engineering, achieving a dream that had started years prior.

While Cap’s professional journey included jobs like managing a gas station and running his own business, he ultimately followed his lifelong passion for space and secured a role at NASA. “The first impression that I have about the space program is the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969,” Cap remembers. “Working at NASA is fulfilling my childhood dream. I met so many aspiring and talented colleagues. I am so grateful that I have an opportunity of working on something that I really love.”

Cap’s gratitude for the opportunities he received is palpable throughout his life story. A firm believer in giving back, Cap holds a belief deeply rooted in the generosity and support he himself received. “Maybe I’m naive, but the fact is the people who welcomed our family, myself, in the community were amazing. It’s exceptionally amazing, and I am grateful for that to this today.” This spirit of gratitude led him to establish a scholarship in UTC’s College of Engineering and Computer Science providing others with the chance to chase a dream.

From a war-torn land to space exploration, Cap’s journey exemplifies the transformative power of education and how someone’s generosity can inspire a lifetime of giving and beyond.

Cap on graduation day with his mom.