Ami Tripp – From Survivor to Thriver  

Quick Summary

  • Ami Tripp is the new SSO HR Coordinator Supervisor and her story is a remarkable journey from Vietnam to Duluth Minnesota.
Ami Tripp

Ami, you have a unique story with some defining moments. Can you talk about some of these major milestones? 

One of my earliest memories was during the escape from Vietnam with my mom. We escaped in the middle of the night, 45 people total, on a small un-seaworthy boat. Most people leave when it is completely dark, but for some reason, we left under a full moon. This journey was extremely dangerous. The captain of our boat had no knowledge of sailing, and these types of boats often sank in fierce storms or were blown off course. For us, by the sixth day we finally made it out to the South China Sea but ran out of food, fuel, and water. Luckily, on the seventh day, as we floated aimlessly at sea, we started being propelled forward. I looked out the tiny porthole and discovered dolphins swimming alongside the boat and moving us along. I believe that moment was an answered prayer. By night we were rescued by an American oil tanker. Because my mom spoke a little English, the captain was able to understand what we needed, and we were taken onboard. The captain gave my mom and me his quarters with a bed - our first luxury.  The next memory I have of that event was eating my very first red, juicy apple, something I had never had in Vietnam (laughs.) As a child, these are the types of things you remember. Most of my memories are bits and pieces.

Did you have a plan? What did you think you would do once you got to the US?

The primary goal was just to get out of Vietnam, and we weren’t even sure we would. This was 1980, seven years after the fall of Saigon, and things were so bad due to economic and political oppression. We left for the US in pursuit of the “American Dream” where opportunities were endless, education was readily available, and we had the freedom to be anything we wanted to be.

So how did you reconnect with your father?

After being rescued, we were taken to a little island somewhere near Indonesia and off-boarded. There was a whole system, with immigration set up, because so many people were escaping at that time. From there, we got transferred to Indonesia and lived in a barracks for about a year until all the paperwork was done, and we were able to come to the United States. My dad sponsored us because he was already there, and he was backed by the same Catholic church in Duluth, Minnesota who had previously sponsored him.   

Where did you go from there?

We arrived in Duluth in November 1982, and I was the coldest I had ever been in my life! My mom wasted no time. She started English classes right away and enrolled in school. The church who sponsored us had a school attached to it and allowed us to live in one of their parish homes. I started over as a first grader at the age of eight. When we left for the US, I had just started second grade in Vietnam, but because I didn’t even know how to say hello in English, I was put in the same grade as my younger brother, so that he could translate for me. We ended up completing kindergarten through grade twelve together, which had its pros, and cons.

Earning your Ed.D., in Education was obviously very important to you. Tell us how that came to be.

In Vietnam, my mom had a teaching degree, but when she came here, she had to start all over. She learned English and graduated with a college degree at age thirty-two. She always stressed how important it was for us to go to school and get an education because that opportunity would have been very difficult to come by if we were still in Vietnam. A part of earning my doctorate was for her; I wanted her to be able to look back and be proud of the struggle she endured to get me here.

Fostering children is very important to you.  Did your formative experiences shape your commitment to family, and did you want to give back in some way?

Definitely! One of my earliest memories in Duluth was being new and poor, and because my mom wasn’t working, we were living on welfare. A lot of church families took us under their wings; they provided Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas presents because my mom couldn’t afford any of that.  Consequently, my husband and I are very involved with our church now, and fostering is an extension of that because I remember what so many people did for us. Fostering holds a deeply significant place in my heart due to my personal experiences and values gained while growing up. I was taught the importance of compassion, empathy, and contributing positively to the world around me. Fostering aligns perfectly with these values, allowing me to translate them into meaningful action.

Do you feel like you are being watched over or protected by a benign force?

Absolutely! For me, the belief that I am being watched over by a higher power stems from a foundation of spirituality and religious upbringing. Throughout my life, I've been exposed to teachings - from my mom, who is Buddhist, and from the catholic school - that emphasize a divine presence that offers protection, guidance, and unconditional love. These teachings have shaped my perception of the world and have provided a lens through which I interpret events and circumstances.

Describe your career trajectory at UC Davis.  

I started at Davis in 2001 as a Financial Aid analyst, in a furloughed position. I was off from November through January, during the slower months. I was with the Financial Aid office until 2014. Throughout my years in financial aid, I learned so many aspects: the behind the scenes of how we transmit the financial aid disbursements, and keeping records within a national database. I learned the front desk, the phone queue, and I supervised students. When a work-study position opened, I applied for that. The assistant director at that time, Monica Pena-Villegas, took me under her wing. I went to all the meetings, and learned alongside her. Her philosophy was to create a succession plan, should she someday decide to leave. I really grew while in that position because she encouraged me to keep learning, and supported me going back to school to get my master’s degree. After the cutbacks of 2007-2009, the Assistant Director position was cut, but got resurrected a few years later. At that time, I felt ready for the Assistant Director role, applied, and started in that position in 2014. During my tenure, Student Employment was moved from Financial Aid to the Internship and Career Center, where I served as its Assistant Director, while raising seven children, being a wife, and going to school. When it was time to move on to my next chapter, I applied for the position of SSO HR Supervisor, which I was offered to me and started in my new role in May 2023. I’m still new in my role, thus, still learning, but have enjoyed my time here and love what I do and the people I get to work with.

You just started a new supervisory position with the SSO HR Coordinators, and you have four foster children at home, under age 3.  How do you achieve balance?  Do you have any routines to mitigate the highs and lows of life?

Church is an anchor for us. Sunday starts early, and we usually don’t get home until three or four in the afternoon. In addition, to manage my responsibilities, I employ a combination of strategies. Effective time management is crucial as I allocate specific blocks for work tasks, childcare, and quality time with my husband and biological children. In addition, there are days I must do a hard stop from work at 4:30 to get the foster children to their appointments or therapies. I also try to remind myself that not every day will go as planned, and being willing to adjust my schedule or expectations, helps me navigate unexpected challenges with grace.

What’s your management style?

I am a "servant/leader," as prioritizing the needs of others, empowering them to reach their full potential, and fostering a positive and supportive environment is important to me.  My leadership style is guided by a genuine concern for the well-being and growth of those on the team.

Furthermore, I try to stay attuned to the personal and professional development of the individual team members. By providing mentorship, guidance, and opportunities for growth, I hope to enable them to flourish and take on leadership roles of their own. I am invested in their success and committed to their advancement.

What advice would you give someone who is struggling and feeling hopeless?

When someone is feeling hopeless, offering support and understanding can make a significant difference in their emotional well-being. Some of the things I try to do include:

  • Listening with Empathy: Encourage them to share their feelings and thoughts without judgment. Let them know that I’m there to listen and understand, and that their feelings are valid.
  • Reaching Out for Help: Suggest that they talk to a mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor, who can provide specialized guidance and support tailored to their situation.
  • Focusing on Small Steps: Help them break down overwhelming tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. Encourage them to focus on accomplishing one thing at a time, celebrating each achievement along the way.
  • Practicing Self-Care: Emphasize the importance of taking care of themselves.
  • Expressing Gratitude: Remind them to reflect on positive aspects of their life and express gratitude for what they have. Gratitude can help shift their focus from hopelessness to appreciation.
  • Offering Ongoing Support: Let them know that I’m there for them and willing to provide ongoing support. Regular check-ins can make a significant difference in the journey towards healing.