Q & A with Chelsea Trinh for Between the Lines: UCI School of Humanities Newsletter


Chelsea Trinh graduated cum laude and with a Chancellor’s Award of Distinction in spring ’15. She received a B.A. in art history and sociology, and is the current Programs & Social Media Coordinator for “Vietnamese Focus: Generations of Stories.” Chelsea’s interview begins on page 26 of the 2015 Fall Newsletter.


Why did you choose to major in art history?

To be honest, at first it was a bit of a whim! I had taken AP Art History in high school and loved it. But when I was applying to college, I had wanted to major in photojournalism. The UC System didn’t offer that – and when I was applying I felt that Art History was the major that I felt was the closest fit. For financial reasons, I decided to go to UCI. But I didn’t ever consider changing my major. Even from day one – at SPOP, the Student Parent Orientation Program, when freshmen have to register for classes – the department had been so warm and welcoming, and I was sure that I couldn’t be any other major. There was just so much to learn, and I loved that Art History was such an interdisciplinary study. There’s a lot to learn from unpacking images, and studying the ideas and beliefs that went into them, and why people valued/continue to value them. I didn’t consider double majoring in Sociology until my 3rd year at UCI, when I had figured that I had enough time to complete another major. Sociology seemed to be an appropriate fit, because it seemed to go hand in hand with what I was learning and discussing in Art History. But to be honest, there are so many other things that fit with Art History as well! I just love how vast and broad it was. Every class gave me an opportunity to pursue something different – not only in terms of eras/areas, but also by allowing me to use class papers as a way to explore my own interests and curiosities, and how others have addressed or responded to these issues in visual media.

You’ve been extremely involved with the Art History Department. You’ve assisted with marketing and outreach for the department, and in organizing the 3rd Annual Art History Undergraduate Association’s art exhibition, “Altered Perceptions.” What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned in these roles?

Probably the most valuable lesson I’ve learned is to just try out for things, even if I’m sure I’m not the best fit, and to put in my best efforts. “Do your best!” – it’s very simple, but it’s something that needs to be learned and even relearned. With all of the things I’ve done for the department – to be honest, I was entirely doubtful that I would be successful at any of it! But that doubt had to be put aside; after all, work needed to be done, and doubt was just wasting time. And I don’t have to do any of this alone! I have a wide network of friends and mentors; I’d say that learning to better communicate with them – about everything, from frustrations to failures to triumphs and success – is a valuable lesson I’m learning, and still learning. And there are lots of other things, too: that I needed to be more organized, that I definitely should be saving Photoshop files every 20-30 minutes (there are few things more frustrating than Photoshop crashing and losing a file!), and that opportunities that seem scary at first aren’t so at all. To quote a friend,” when you’re given an opportunity, you’ve just got to own it.”

In addition to interning with the Art History department, you have also interned with the Bowers Museum, Huntington Library and the UCI Vietnamese American Oral History Project (VAOHP). What has your experience been interning at these organizations?

Each internship was very different – The Bowers was public relations & marketing, and The Huntington was a curatorial internship. For VAOHP, I’ve been working with them on their “Vietnamese Focus” exhibition, which they are doing with OC Parks and the Orange County & Southeast Asian Archive Center. That one is very important to me, because it’s a way for me to explore my own family and community history. But I’ve been lucky enough that every opportunity I’ve had was a great one. I’ve definitely learned to be more adaptable to whatever the situation calls for, and much, much better at time management than I ever was before! Like I said previously, I had a lot of doubt at first about whether or not I was really the best for these positions; but I just had to put as much effort as I could into them! I’ve also been really lucky that my internships so far have been flexible – I had a lot of opportunities to go beyond my primary responsibilities and do a lot of other things I hadn’t anticipated at all! There was a lot of information and experiences to soak in, and they all helped me learn a lot more about myself – how I could be more efficient at work, what I liked to do and what I didn’t like. I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to try so many different things! It’s extremely invaluable because I can bring whatever I’ve learned on a previous project to any new one I’m working on.

What are your post-graduation plans?

Right now, I’m still interning with VAOHP, and will be with them through February 2016. I am also working with the Festival of Discovery and the Art History department on an October project, and will probably be helping out at the department through the summer. I don’t plan on grad school for another 2-3 years; I want more time before I make a big commitment! Hopefully I will work at a museum here in Southern California at some point in the future – fingers crossed.

What advice do you have for incoming freshmen in the School of Humanities?

I’m not sure I have any they haven’t heard before! But mostly:

  • Being afraid of new things is completely normal. I was so incredibly shy as a freshman (and up until senior year, actually); I had a very hard time talking to professors, getting involved on campus, and making friends. Trying to do things is the hardest part – once you get over that hurdle, you’ll realize how small it was, and see that you just have to put one foot in front of the other.
  • Not doing well academically, or feeling as though everyone is smarter than you, or generally just feeling as though you’ve failed – it’s not the end of the world. It hurts, and is awful, but it’s a part of growing up. Not everyone can be perfect, and they can’t be perfect all the time. It’s perfectly alright to have flaws, and it’s perfectly fine to not be good at things. Your worth is not measured by your GPA; your failures in no way devalue you. Be critical of yourself, and your mistakes, but at the same time, don’t be too hard on yourself for them. You can’t learn if you don’t make mistakes.
  • Something that would have saved me some heartache: don’t be afraid to talk about your passions, but also don’t be afraid to talk about your fears, or issues. Just don’t be afraid to talk! You have so many resources on campus – not just your friends and family, but your professors, mentors, your clubs/organizations, the Counseling Center, LGBT Resource Center, etc. If you ever feel alone or lost, others have gone through it too, and you have a ready network to help you.
  • Keep an open mind. You’ll have to do a lot of re-learning, and even unlearning. That’s completely normal.

What drives you?

What drives me is a little hard to put into words. My family, friends, and mentors, definitely – they have a lot of faith in me, and I try to live up to that. I wouldn’t say I really have a plan: I just know that there are so many things out there I have yet to do, and there’s so much I have yet to experience. It’s scary and exciting, but that’s the whole point of learning new things. I’ll probably figure it out someday, but for now I’ll just enjoy the process of making my way there