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Dillon Award Recipients: Where are they now? Harrison Nguyen ‘08

Harrison Nguyen’s interest in medicine began as a child. He knew from an early age that he wanted to help people live the best lives they could. Now, having earned his medical degree in 2018 and board certified in dermatology, he is currently on a Micrographic Surgery and Dermatologic Oncology Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania, Nguyen is living out his mission to bring cures to those who need it most. 

“My mission is to help and lead the innovation of cutting edge therapies for skin diseases, especially for populations with limited access to treatment,” said Nguyen.

He is well on his way to doing just that. This summer Nguyen wil be moving to Houston, assuming multiple roles -  first being the chief medical officer at the Center for Clinical Studies where he will be leading clinical trials to develop innovative therapies for skin diseases. Simultaneously, he is acquiring a dermatology practice with three other doctors where he will serve as the managing director. Lastly, Nguyen is joining the clinical faculty at the University of Texas in Houston where he will be teaching and leading the next generation of medical students. 

With an accomplished background and a bright future ahead, Nguyen remains humble thinking back to the teachers and mentors that helped him along his journey. 

“The most formative experience for me at Catholic Central was the science fair,” reflected Nguyen. “Mr. Barker was teaching sophomore chemistry, and it was a class requirement to participate in a science project. I ended up submitting my project to the Michigan Science Fair for extra credit and won the state competition. From there, I went to the national science fair where I met students with similar interests and saw the power of research. That experience opened me up to my interest in medical research. It all started with a high school requirement for chemistry and ultimately led me to earn multiple scholarships and launched me into the world of medical research.” 

Shortly after high school graduation, Nguyen discovered his interest in dermatology through his first mentor in medicine who happened to be a dermatologist. He quickly realized the impact skin diseases have on people’s quality of lives and how he can bring solutions to patients through research and clinical trials.

As the first and only doctor in his family, Nguyen encourages current students who are interested in a particular field to seek mentors and coaches. “For me, I didn't know any doctors, and I didn't know what the path would look like. I had to seek mentors and coaches along the way. That is my biggest piece of advice - find someone you respect, seek these people out to mentor you. To have coaches along the way in an industry that you don't have familiarity with is critical.”

The Dillon Award recipient says that his successful education and career goes back to his time at Catholic Central where he learned lessons that would ultimately help him during challenging times through medical school and beyond. 

“The most salient impact that Catholic Central had on me were the teachers. I had very dedicated, skilled and inspiring teachers as a high school student. One of them being Neal Alpiner who taught geometry, AP computer science, and AP physics. I had the opportunity to take three classes with him, and he really fostered learning and encouraged his students to dive into and embrace the process of scholarships and embrace the process of being a student. As someone who has been in school for 28 years, Mr. Alpiner has very much inspired me to think about problems not as a means to an end, but rather as a journey and that has profoundly impacted me as a professional,” said Nguyen.

The Dillon Award is a recognition of academic achievement that has been a part of Catholic Central history since 1970. The award bears the name of Rev. Daniel Dillon, CSB because of his dedication to the academic advancement of CC as its first principal. Fr. Raymond Paramo, CSB instituted the Dillon Award as a way to honor the student with the highest cumulative grade point average of each year's graduating class. 

This article is the first of a new series by the Detroit Catholic Central Alumni Association highlighting past recipients of Catholic Central’s Big Three Awards: Dillon, Whelan, and Ranalletti. If you know of a Big Three recipient exemplifying Goodness, Discipline, and Knowledge, please email communications@catholiccentral.net.

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