Tucked inside one of the music practice rooms open to students at the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music, chemical engineering and music major Dustin Ngo spends a majority of his day practicing the piano.
Studying STEM and arts, these two rivaling fields of study keep Ngo busy, with most of his days spent traversing upper and lower campus. On a typical Tuesday, Ngo spends 14 hours on campus, starting at 8 a.m. with organic chemistry and ending at 10 p.m. with choir.
It sounds exhausting, but according to Ngo, he has been enjoying his workload.
“I don’t like to see [studying music and engineering] as a struggle, I’d rather see it as an opportunity,” Ngo said. “It forces me to find ways to be more efficient. I get to meet more people, which is my biggest advantage, in both [my] social life and networking.”
He chose to become a chemical engineering major based on practicality. Originally, Ngo was accepted to CSULB as a biochemistry major, but he said that he would have a better chance of being hired as a chemical engineer.
Ngo has been playing piano his whole life and because he comes from a family of musicians, it made sense for him to continue playing.
He contacted the Director of keyboard studies, Shun-Lin Chou, and asked for piano lessons to hone his skills. Most music professors charge a hefty price for lessons, so he had to become a music major and enroll in a large ensemble in order to receive state-paid lessons.
Originally, his parents were skeptical about their son only pursuing a music degree because they knew the difficulties of the music industry, as they were both musicians. However, Ngo said that they have been supportive of his decision to double major.
Having knowledge in both engineering and music sets Ngo apart from other job applicants.
“Engineering requires you to look outside the box; critical thinking, problem-solving, and I think art can really expand what you can do with that,” Ngo said.
Dylan Lam, a friend of six years and marching bandmate, has watched Ngo grow as an artist and student. They’ve supported each other through long practices and have grown stronger as friends. They have helped each other in their own artistic and academic pursuits.
“[Ngo] is definitely a person who really tries and has a lot of persistence in everything he does,” Lam said. “Thinking about all his achievements, academically and musically, I think are kind of amazing.”
Alongside his academic activities, Ngo is a member of the Riverside City College Indoor Percussion. Ngo drives to Riverside every weekend to practice keyboard and manage soundscapes.
He also teaches piano to kids and adults, and he enjoys the challenges that teaching entails.
STEM and art students look at the world through different lenses and have their own separate specialized skills, but Ngo said he is able to experience the best of both worlds. Despite all their differences, Ngo said STEM and music students are more alike than they are different.
“There’s people in the STEM world that have a lack of artistry and lack of creativity, but [are] really strong in math,” Ngo said. “There’s people in music that are exceptional with their instrument, amazing interpreters of classical literature, but at the same time you can’t ask them to balance a chemical equation.”
Ngo said he is grateful that he attends CSULB because if he didn’t, he wouldn’t have gotten the chance to pursue the double major.
“I can’t give advice that would fit everyone, but a good general thing: You know what’s right, whether you think so or not, you know it,” Ngo said. “What I would do, flip a coin…[and] once it’s in the air you already have a thought about which one you want to do and that’s your answer, doesn’t matter what the coin flip is.”