First-Generation Graduate Pays It Forward

Chinsin Sim
Chinsin Sim (B.A., communication, ’14)

Chinsin Sim, B.A., Communication, ’14

Three and a half years into his career as a talent recruiter for technology companies in the San Francisco Bay Area, Chinsin Sim (B.A., communication, ’14) still marvels at his good fortune.

The son of Cambodian immigrants and the first in his family to get a college degree, Sim said: “Sometimes I look back and ask myself, ‘How did I do it?’”

If it hadn’t been for teachers and other mentors who recognized and fostered his own talents while he was growing up in Stockton, he said he might never have even attended UC Davis. “Cambodians, especially in our community, weren’t known to attend college or finish high school.”

Refugees' son sets sights on UC education

Sim’s parents, as teenagers, had fled the brutal Khmer Rouge, which killed at least 1.7 million people during the regime's 1975–79 rule. After settling in Stockton, his father became a car salesman and his mother a preschool teacher.

“My family always struggled with their finances,” said Sim, the second of four children. “I was on the free and reduced lunch programs from elementary to high school. Growing up, going to college wasn’t really on the table.”

Advice to first gen students

"There are a lot of resources on campus, so please take advantage of them! [Advisors and faculty] are there to help.

"Apply for as many scholarships as possible!

"Don’t ever give up. You already made this far. I know it gets tough. The reward at the end is worth it."

To help support his family, Sim worked odd jobs, including a stint working nights for a wedding caterer (“I wouldn’t get home until 3 a.m.”)—and began to explore the idea of a college education.

“I felt like I was constantly in the dark. My friends had either older siblings or parents who already went through this process—college applications, getting a higher degree,” he said. “I relied heavily on internet research and my teachers to learn that even a kid like myself deserved a shot at a UC.”

A high school visit to UC Davis cemented the campus as his top choice. “It was literally my dream school,” he said. “I loved that it was a globally renowned university right in our backyard.”

The power of internships

As a UC Davis student, he said he discovered a number of campus resources that helped him thrive. He also participated in the UC Davis Center for Leadership Learning, and completed internships for Intel—in the chip giant’s corporate affairs office in Folsom and, during a quarter at the UC Washington Center, with Intel’s government affairs team in Washington, D.C.

An internship after graduation with Logitech led to a full-time job in the computer and mobile accessory company’s Talent Acquisition and Employee Communications team. After 16 months there, he worked two years with Uber’s recruiting team.

Sim now works on the recruiting team for stock-trading app Robinhood in Palo Alto, where he helps hire top talent for the company. “When I was looking for my next adventure, I asked myself, ‘Which product do I really believe in?’ The answer was right on my home screen: Robinhood.

“Growing up, my family didn’t have a lot of money and investing in the stock market, quite frankly, was never even a remote possibility,” he added. “Robinhood broke down those barriers and gave me the tools to be on the same playing field with zero-commission fee trading. I wanted to be a part of that mission.”

Inspired to be a role model

Now Sim is helping his younger sister pay for her education at UC Santa Cruz. “She told me that seeing me do well after college inspired her to pursue a higher education,” he said.

His mother also went back to school to get a bachelor’s degree—a rewarding turnabout for Sim, who said his parents’ sacrifice motivated him to succeed in school.

“I wanted to become a role model for my family and other members of our community,” he said. “I wanted to motivate the next generation and show them that Cambodians can go to college too.

“I was always told that going to college would open many more doors. At the time, I didn't know what that meant. Now I do.”

Kathleen Holder, content strategist in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science