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Breaking the Ice: Broad experience, interests yield ‘jack-of-all-trades’

Editor’s note: Breaking the Ice helps reserved Minnesotans learn more about their colleagues and their lives beyond their jobs.

Name: Hue Nguyen

Title: Assistant commissioner, Minnesota Department of Education

Education: Bachelor’s degrees in political science and journalism, University of Minnesota

Hue Nguyen has worked for three political parties and in the governor’s office, the state Senate and as an intern for a U.S. senator. As a special adviser to Gov. Mark Dayton, she covered a broad range of policy areas including education, taxes and state and local government issues.

“That’s pretty much my whole career, a jack-of-all-trades,” said Nguyen, who joined the state Education Department as assistant commissioner in November 2014. “I’ve always had interest in a lot of different issue areas.”

Her focus now is leading the agency’s effort to write the state’s plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal bill that replaced No Child Left Behind.

Nguyen was a college intern for the late Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn. Her experience also includes working at the League of Minnesota Cities and as a Senate Tax Committee administrator and adviser to then-Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller.

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. A lot of people think I’m a really extroverted person and I am not. I’m actually an introvert, so oftentimes, unfortunately, people have to approach me to start conversations because I am actually rather shy. It takes a little bit more to approach an individual and start a conversation myself.

Q. Who was the first presidential candidate you voted for and why?

A. Al Gore. I was in college and still trying to figure out who or where I was politically. Socially I aligned more with the DFL Party than I did with the Republican Party, although I would still consider myself fiscally conservative.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. I have two young kids, a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old. We spend a lot of time reading their books. Right now on my nightstand I have “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and “The Book with No Pictures.”

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. I got into this type of work because I want to make a change. So I would say my pet peeve is people who complain and don’t do anything about it. Let’s be solution-oriented. Let’s try to make things better.

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. Hanging out with my family. I was raised going to public parks and Minnesota lakes. That’s what I enjoy doing and am doing with my kids every single weekend. We have to get out there and enjoy the fresh air.

Q. What event or person has inspired you?

A. My parents. They are war refugees from Vietnam and came to a country where they did not speak the language. They already had two kids and they had two more in the United States and made sure that we had what we needed and instilled the importance of education. Every day I want to work really hard to make sure that other kids have the same types of opportunities and future that I had.

Q. What’s one way to end partisan polarization?

A. Talking to one another, getting to know each other. A lot of people assume somebody from a different political party is going to be on opposite ends. If you have a conversation, I think we would agree on a lot more than we disagree on but we don’t get to that point.

Q. If you’re not at your desk, you’re probably where?

A. Right now I’m probably involved in some Every Student Succeeds Act committee or stakeholder engagement activity.

 Q. What would very few people know about you?

A. I love celebrity gossip. It’s really nice to decompress at the end of the day and veg out on something that is mindless.

Q. What do you miss most with the Capitol under renovation?

A. I just miss being there. I spent so much of my career in that beautiful building. When you are in that building you forget how beautiful it is because it’s essentially your office. You’re so fortunate to walk into that building every single day.

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