Meagan Tran, in a biomedical lab at the University of Arizona, is to receive the Nugent Award at commencement on Friday. She’s an avid rock climber and has done volunteer work in the community, specifically at Tu Nidito, to support grieving children.

As soon as Meagan Tran arrived at the University of Arizona, she dove right in.

On the first day of her freshman year, Tran began emailing research labs across campus.

“For every 10 I sent out, I expected to hear back from two,” said Tran, who will graduate summa cum laude from the College of Engineering with a Bachelor of Science degree in biomedical engineering and minors in mathematics and molecular and cellular biology.

The rejections didn’t discourage Tran. She eventually found Yitshak Zohar and Linan Jian’s Integrated Microsystem Laboratory.

She expected to stay a year and get some experience, “but, it just clicked and I stayed because Dr. Zohar was such a great mentor. I felt really supported,” she said. “They became like my Tucson parents.”

Tran also reached out to many clubs on campus.

She became involved in Engineering Student Council her freshman year and helped expand the club. After she realized biomedical engineering was not represented as a club, she and some friends started one.

Using resources like YouTube, they taught themselves to build their own devices from scratch, such as their own version of a Fitbit, she said. More recently, club members built prosthetic hind legs for a dog.

“I remember thinking, this is really hard,” Tran said. “I realized how much I didn’t know.”

Tran also became deeply involved with rock climbing, which she credits with teaching her important life lessons like, “You need to fall multiple times to get better,” she said.

Rock climbing not only gave her an appreciation for Tucson’s mountains and being a steward for the outdoors, but also for being a steward for the community in general.

Tran volunteered for the Crisis Text Line, where she talked people through troubling times in their lives. She once found herself simultaneously exchanging texts with a 10-year-old and a 50-year-old who were each dealing with separate relationship problems.

“It gave me a different perspective,” she said. “Everyone’s at different points in their lives. It doesn’t make their crisis less real.”

She realized she enjoyed working directly with people to bring them comfort. She decided to become a doctor and began volunteering with grieving 3- to 7-year-olds at Tu Nidito — a local nonprofit supporting families affected by serious medical conditions and death.

“As students, we get sucked into classes and we’re really not expected to have time to do anything else,” she said. “But I found service motivated me to do better in my classes, and I didn’t just feel like a student but an actual human.”

These experiences put her own life into perspective.

“I should feel lucky that I had the opportunity to go to college,” she said.

Born and raised in Phoenix, Tran is a first-generation Vietnamese-American. Her family lived through the violence of the Vietnam War. Her parents later fled the country when they were about Tran’s age.

Her mom and dad are now a nurse and an Intel engineer, respectively.

Tran said she received a good public education in a stable community with supportive teachers and a strong academic foundation.

But because of the lottery of birth, not all are afforded such luxuries, she said.

So when Teach for America reached out to her — she had applied on a whim, as she tended to do — she knew what her answer would be. She’ll be teaching for two years in San Jose, the city with the largest Vietnamese immigrant population in the country.

Afterward, she will attend the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale for medical school.

Her advice to those just beginning their own college career: “Keep an open mind, find what makes you passionate and be persistent.”

Contact Mikayla Mace at mmace@tucson.com. Follow on Twitter and Facebook.