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A Tale of Two Washingtons

In her professional life, Nina Nguyen Collier, MA ‚98, helps others help themselves. Inspired by the „teach a man to fishš philosophy of Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.), for whom she worked while attending GW, Collier founded Washington 2 Advocates, which supports Washington state businesses and entities as they navigate policies developed in D.C. and Washington state. In 2004, Collier was appointed to the President‚s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, which facilitates communication between the government and AAPI communities.

Nina Nguyen Collier, MA ’98, is founder of Washington 2 Advocates, which supports Washington state businesses and entities in navigating state and federal business policies.

Self-empowerment is a skill Collier developed early on. In 1975, when she was 3, her family left Vietnam for the United States. “Ours is not a unique story,” Collier says, describing her family’s desire for political and religious freedom.

Collier’s family originally landed in California before a Lutheran church on Mercer Island, Wash., served as their host, thus beginning Collier’s strong connection to the state. Her father balanced multiple jobs, eventually becoming a professor of economics and an English as a Second Language instructor. Collier earned a degree in international studies from the University of Washington and served in local government as a legislative analyst before coming to GW to study international affairs.

Collier thrived on the political, cultural, and learning opportunities in D.C. and put her education to use as Gorton’s legislative assistant on federal budget, tax, general government, appropriations, and Indian Affairs. As much as she enjoyed “the best place to go for college, especially for international affairs,” she returned to Washington soon after graduation. She now resides with her husband in Bellevue, Wash. They enjoy wine tasting, gardening, and traveling throughout the Pacific Northwest.
“Senator Gorton encouraged students in his office to use the knowledge and skills they learned in Washington, D.C., to improve our home state,” Collier says. “Navigating the government is a skill, and I wanted to pass that on to others.”

She does so through Washington 2 Advocates, guiding clients through processes, red tape, and opportunities at state and federal levels; it also helps clients develop grassroots communications strategies and successfully lobby in state and federal arenas. Among Collier’s favorite clients was Stockpot Soups, a business located in Washington that is a subsidiary of the Campbell Soup Company. “We worked closely with them and the local government when problems arose; ultimately, they got to stay in the state, which was tremendously beneficial for the state, employees, and the company,” she says.

She takes a similar approach to helping members of the Asian American community through the advisory commission. She serves a two-year term that builds on the work of the previous commission, which had a healthcare focus, and takes on this term’s task of developing economic and cultural opportunities for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

“We provide a middle ground between these communities and the Bush administration to not only make sure their voices are being heard, but also to let them know about the opportunities available to them,” Collier says. “There are a lot of ‘mom and pop’ businesses in the Asian American communities, and I’ve learned that while many are not afraid to start a business, they face a lot of roadblocks, some of which can be easily overcome if you understand laws, policies, and benefits,” Collier says. “We try to make help accessible. There has been a lot of positive change and growth in the past few years in these communities.”

Vietnam, too, has taken great steps in the last few decades, Collier says, and she and her family returned in the winter of 2005 to reunite with family and homeland, and to witness growth.
“I was so thankful to return and see a country on the brink of an economic and cultural explosion. It is a country of huge promise,” Collier says. “Over time, I hope it will become another land of opportunity.”

—Laura Ewald