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Chico State

Navigating International Paths and Markets: A Business Student’s Journey to a Rawlins Award

Emma Pham poses on a stool in a blue business suit.
Jason Halley/University Photographer

In the coming weeks, we will be celebrating the accomplishments and stories behind 2024’s Lt. Rawlins Merit Scholarship Recipients. The award—one of the largest and most prestigious at Chico State—celebrates scholarship, extracurricular activities, and outstanding academic, and professional accomplishments.

As a 16-year-old high-school student in Vietnam, Nhung (Emma) Pham was fortunate enough to participate in an international trip the Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. That trip gave her the courage to apply to become an international student, first at Mendocino College and now at Chico State, where she is scheduled to graduate in May with a degree in business information systems (option in Business analytics).

With strong skills in computer science, Pham originally planned to pursue biology and enter the medical field before she, with the help of Professor Jaycob Arbogast, put her coding skills to use as a member of the SMIF (Student-Managed Investment Fund Team). Pham led the Algorithmic Trading Team and created custom software that automates investment decisions—like automatically buying a particular stock when it hits a certain price and selling once it hits a higher price. Through coding in Python, Pham can create more complex rules, such as monitoring a particular stock’s convergence and divergence lines and executing a trade the minute the two lines cross.

When the project hit a roadblock, Pham came in over winter break, read through pages of documentation material, identified a new brokerage firm that meets the team’s needs, and wrote new Python code that allows the SMIF team to communicate with its Wharton Research Data Service (WRDS) datasets.

One of the SMIF group’s top students and leaders, and now exploring international markets, Pham was selected to attend a student conference in New York where she got to witness the working of the New York Stock Exchange and meet with recruiters from the world’s largest financial services companies.

In addition to being the SMIF team’s lead programmer, Pham worked as an on-campus math tutor, is currently a research assistant at the Center for Economic Development, an instructional student assistant at the College of Business, and is pursuing industry certifications in finance. As an undergraduate, she has published scholarly research. Her first academic article “Abnormality Detection in Network Traffic by Classification and Graph Data Analysis” under the supervision of Jing Guo (Department of Mathematics and Statistics) and Zhaohong Wang (Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering) is published with The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

“It is rare to have a student who is both passionate and knowledgeable about so many different disciplines,” said Arbogast, Director of the Center for Excellence in Finance at Chico State. “I have no doubt she’ll be able to blend all these skills into a successful post-graduation career.”

Phan’s many accomplishments, drive to excel and leadership among her peers led to her being named a 2023-24 Lt. Robert Merton Rawlins award winner.

What does the Rawlins Award scholarship mean to you?

I was very surprised when I got the scholarship because I knew it would be competitive and I’m an international student competing with American students. The award makes a difference financially for me. But more importantly, I think it will mean a lot to my parents and make them proud of me. They know I’m a first-generation student, speaking my second language in this country, and trying to finish my degree. It also means my hard work has paid off.

Who has supported you throughout your journey at Chico State?

The first person who comes to mind is Jaebong Son. He was my professor in MINS 235, MINS 335, and BSIS 460. The first two are database application classes and the last one is data analytics course and I ranked first in his class three times. He got approval for me to take MINS 335 and BSIS 460 concurrently and helped me realize I was up to the challenge.

The other business professor who has mentored me is Jaycob Arbogast. When I first met him, I knew nothing about stocks or the financial market. He said, ‘that’s ok, your computer science skills will really help us and I can teach you the rest.’

I also am thankful to the International Education and Global Engagement Office. Even before I came to Chico State, they helped walk me through Cal State application and process. I’m really thankful for Bethany (Pinegar), Tasha (Alexander), and Cindy (McKay); they have been so welcoming.

What do you want to do after graduating?

I really want to become a quantitative analyst and work at a financial institution. In that role, I am on the data side and finance side. I also can’t wait to take a trip back to Vietnam after I’ve graduated and secured a job.

Tell me something about you isn’t in the nomination letter?

I love to travel. I started visiting other countries as a teenager and gained confidence. I learned I can navigate other cultures through my trips.