Humans of Santa Clara University (2015)

Original Post from Humans of Santa Clara University

Thao ‘16, School of Engineering

“After witnessing two incidents of corruption, one from leadership at my local parish and another from a teacher in high school, I entered Santa Clara University hoping to re-establish my faith. My first professor here, Sam Conedera, was kind, patient, caring, approachable, and supportive. With each conversation we had, my faith slowly renewed. On these stairs two years ago, I asked him to pray for me. He gently smiled and said, ‘Yes, I will pray for you.’ A week later during office hours, I asked if he had prayed for me. He answered, ‘Yes, I did and I will continue to do so.’ Sam was a huge part of my faith journey. I hope to be a guide like him to others on their faith journey, especially to the kids at my Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Group.”

Apr 16, 2015

Diocese of San Jose Priest Ordinations 2019

This is the second Priest Ordinations Mass that I have attended. It has been 2 years since I have attended a Priest Ordinations Mass. 

It was the same Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph that I have attended multiple Masses during the weekdays for over half a year. However, I felt a different sense of peace and hope as this Ordination Mass went on.

Congratulations to the newly ordained Fr. John Hoang and Fr. Victor Trinidad!

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset



Camp Drawing 2019

This month’s theme for the VEYM DAC (Digital Assets Collection)/TNTT Arts Team is Camping. I initially had many concepts in my head, but had a difficult time transferring it down on paper. Maybe it is the lack of completion of my imagination or maybe it is the lack of drawing skills. I did draw another concept before this final one, but I decided not to pursue it since it would have probably taken twice as long to finish. In the end, I chose this concept because I felt that it captured what I thought of camp.

When I think of Camping, I think of the spiritual peak of the camp, which is Hành Trình Đức Tin (HDDT). I remember the first thing we have to do is receive and decode a morse or semaphore message. Sometimes, it could be both going at once. Back when I was a Đoàn Sinh, I would be one of the fastest people to decode the morse or semaphore messages. Being the first one to decode was crucial because it basically dictated whether or not our đội will come in first for HDDT. It meant winning.

That is what I wanted to capture here: the concentration, the competitive spirit, the adrenaline rush. I felt all that while I wrote down the message and decoded it as quickly as I can.

Last year during camp, I was assigned to Ngành Thiếu, but that obviously did not stop the Nghĩa Sĩ kids from noticing an unfamiliar female Huynh Trưởng performing Semaphore so quickly that it was nearly impossible to record. This year, I am helping out with Ngành Nghĩa Sĩ and I was assigned to review Semaphore with them. During my lesson, the Nghĩa Sĩ kids were very attentive because they remembered how fast the semaphore was during the previous camp. They wanted to get used to my speed so that they would be prepared for this year’s camp. A good number of them were very focused. This drawing reflects those kids during my review lesson.

Coloring using Adobe Photoshop CS6

I really enjoyed teaching the Semaphore review lesson because the Nghĩa Sĩ kids quickly started recognizing the letters and decoding out loud as I performed the message. I beamed with pride and thought, “This is how good they should be!” I was proud of them.

After that lesson, I knew my Nghĩa Sĩ kids were ready for camp.

One of my art friends complimented on the foreshortening and I had to give credit to the reference I was using. It is a photo from an HT training camp that took placed in Miền Tây Nam. Training Camp in Miền Tây Nam, specifically Liên Đoàn Nguồn Sống, has a special place in my heart.

Liên Đoàn Nguồn Sống’s Xuất Hành XXIX (August 2018)


VEYM Heroes Initiative 2019

Last month, my brother, Socrates Pham, was given the opportunity to make a video promotion for the VEYM Heroes Initiative and I offered him my help because I know how difficult video projects are. It has been a while since I have been in front of the camera so I was a little rusty while filming! But it was fun nonetheless!

Unfortunately, my brother did not know that you are not supposed to have direct sunlight on your face while filming… Can you catch when there’s direct sunlight on my face?

I also had the opportunity to finalize the flyer for the VEYM Heroes Initiative as the original designer became unavailable. There was a lot more extra work put into this since I tried to keep the original design as much as possible, but I also needed to include the changes that VEYM wanted. There were probably 10+ revisions to this flyer. Here is the final version:


Ultimately, I am happy to have the opportunity to help out with this VEYM project.



I tried to pray for someone who has betrayed and deeply hurt me. Someone who constantly lied to me despite the many times I gave my trust over and over again. Someone who bad-mouthed me behind my back and right in front of my face.

With great pain and sadness, I asked, “Why?

And then I heard:

[…] “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

He asked, “Who are you, Lord?”

The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. […]”

-Acts 9: 4-5 (NRSVCE), The Conversion of Saul

I felt a sense of peace as I came back and recognized the Eucharist in front of me.

How I studied for the EIT Exam

Like most people, I am definitely not a very good test taker, especially when it comes to exams like the EIT.

For those who do not know, the EIT (Engineer-In-Training) exam is basically the first step to becoming a licensed Professional Engineer. We need to pass this 5.5-hour exam before being eligible to take another 8-hour exam. (NOTE: This post applies for 2017 until the next big change). In recent years, the EIT was renamed to FE (Fundamentals of Engineering).

I had to take the FE Civil exam twice:

  • My first attempt was in March 2017, which was unsuccessful.
  • My second attempt was in September 2017, which was successful.

I will be sharing with you what were the 5 key differences that might have helped me pass the FE exam (at the second attempt).

  1. Getting enough sleep
    1. March: I literally did not sleep the night before at all. I was extremely tensed and worried about the exam. In addition, I talked to someone who constantly stresses me out a few hours before I went to bed (to try to sleep). [Not a good decision]
    2. September: I probably got around 3 hours of sleep in. I ended up passing the exam.
    3. Lesson Learned: Get some sleep even if it’s just a little bit.
  2. Do practice problems
    1. March: I reviewed material in the FE Civil Review by Michael R. Lindeburg, did a few practice problems in the FE Civil Practice Problems by Michael R. Lindeburg, and went over the official NCEES practice exam just twice or so.  
    2. September: I went over the two most recent official NCEES practice exams as many times as I could and did a few Practice Problems from the FE Civil Practice Problems by Michael R. Lindeburg.  
    3. Lesson Learned: You are studying to take and pass an exam, not relearn everything you learned in school. Therefore, just do practice problems!
  3. Know the Reference Guide
    1. March: I was comfortable with the Reference Guide.
    2. September: I was an expert with the Reference Guide.
    3. Lesson Learned: Know where exactly a certain formula/information you need in the Reference Guide! Doing practice problems and using the official Reference Guide helped a lot. For me, I brought a hard-copy of the Reference Guide and tabbed it as necessary.
  4. Be chill
    1. March: I was a nervous wreck when I took the exam. My hands kept shaking and I felt like I couldn’t breathe until the next day. Yes, I was still on adrenaline after the exam (9+ hours).
    2. September: I was more calm about it. In fact, my attitude was more like, “If I pass, I pass. If I fail, I can take it again later.”
    3. Lesson Learned: When I was nervous, I was more likely to misread the question or mark a wrong answer. Being more relaxed allowed me even allowed me to have extra time after the morning session. I had time to go over my answers two more times, which gave me the opportunity to find errors in my calculations and fix them.
  5. Stay sane
    1. March: I stopped going to TNTT for about a month to coop myself up in my room to study. I barely took any mental breaks and did not catch up with friends.
    2. September: I was still going to TNTT. When I got tired of studying, I would take a nice long break. Once in a while, I would catch up with a friend.
    3. Lesson Learned: Take breaks by allowing yourself to have fun during the period of time (weeks or months) of studying.

Ultimately, I believe that it is simply important to put the exam as a priority and just try your best. Do not be too hard on yourself if you do not pass the first time. Passing the exam the first or second time does not mean you are a good or bad engineer. Everyone’s journey to becoming an engineer is different.

To whoever is taking the FE exam, I wish you the best of luck! Happy studying!

Study Material:

FE Civil Practice Problems by Michael R. Lindeburg

FE Civil Review by Michael R. Lindeburg (older version of this)

NCEES FE Civil practice exam

NCEES Reference Guide



I was urged to have confession and so I did. It was the first time I was having confession at this church. The line was so long. When it was finally my turn, I said everything that I was advised to confess. The priest in the confessional questioned my sins and basically roasted me for my sins. Confused and filled with rage, I cried. I did not understand why the priest was making me feel worse about my sins when I had already felt terrible about them. I cried for a long time in the confessional and continued having tears in my eyes and tears rolling down my cheeks as I walked out. I finally understood why some people only have confession with a specific priest.

I don’t know if I ever want to have confession ever again.

A couple of weeks later, I had confession with my spiritual director during the 4-day Ignatian Silent Retreat. I specifically chose him to have confession with because, by now, he knew me and I figured he probably would not roast me (or at least not as badly) as the previous priest.

This confession was vastly different from my previous confession.

He did not roast me at all.

Instead, he showed me God’s love and mercy. As he spoke, I felt God comforting me. My spiritual director treated me with kindness and compassion. I cried not because of shame or anger this time, but because my heart was touched by God’s loving embrace. My spiritual director gave me a penance that no other priest had given me before and the penance was one that revealed God’s love.

I think I only want to have confession with this priest from now on.

But I know that’s not possible.