Industrial Engineering Senior Named to Kentucky Derby Princess Court

April 1, 2023

Tran is a Derby Festival Princess

Industrial Engineering senior Valerie Tran has admired Derby Princesses since she was a little girl. Now she is one.

By Holly Hinson

Born and raised in Louisville, Valerie Tran, a senior majoring in Industrial Engineering, has been named to the prestigious Derby Festival Royal Court®  for 2023. Tran said she dreamed of this goal for a long time.

“I always thought about doing it, but freshman year, I learned a bit more about what a Derby Princess stood for, how they are leaders on campus and in their community, and that really resonated with me,” she said. “I got to meet and work closely with some of them and they’re the best women ever.  I wanted to be like that and have younger girls have a role model to look up to.”

To apply for the Derby Princess, Tran went through a lengthy application process, where they consider GPA, community service, letters of recommendation, and interviews. I remember getting the phone call and she said, I think you know why I’m calling, and I felt like I was going to burst into tears,” said Tran. It was empowering to me because it’s something I’ve worked for and built up my resume, and then boom it happens. I was very happy and proud of myself.

Tran will participate with the other four Derby Princesses in an estimated 70 community events, and by random draw, a winner will be named at the Fillies Ball in April. “No matter what happens, we will all be happy for one another because everybody on the court is so deserving.”

When Tran visited Speed School before starting her engineering education, she said it just “felt right, and I love being a Cardinal,” she said.

Initially, Tran planned to study bioengineering, but decided it was not the pathway for her. “With the Asian stereotype everyone expected me to be a doctor, but one day I realized I didn’t want to become a doctor,” she said. Instead, a book she read as a senior in high school that spoke about the impact you make with your career sparked her interest in engineering.

“You can be an engineer and you make all these things, and that leaves an impact on countless people’s lives and in so many other different ways that people don’t usually think about.“

Tran said her three co-op rotations through Speed School prepared her to enter the engineering workforce. “The internships make you competitive in the engineering field and Speed School builds theirs into the curriculum, which I really appreciate,” she said.  At two Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) co-op rotations, she learned about optimization.

“For example, we studied the facility layouts of the kitchens,” said Tran. “You looked at where you would set everything so that it kind of flows together, and people using it can get the ideal user experience,” she said. “When you’re learning about something that you’re eventually going to do, it’s so cool to see that,” she said. You’re not learning this in class because they want you to do homework. It’s more that you’re learning this because you’re going to make an impact somewhere.”

Beyond academia, Tran’s diversity of interests includes sales and marketing pursuits, such as her own online embroidery business, ThreadsLovedByYou, which she was run since 2017. She also performs side hustles as a campus representative for Course Hero, an online learning platform for course-specific study resources to help students graduate confident and prepared. In addition, she works in sales as a campus manager for Fresh Prints, a customizable online merchandising company. “It’s fun to grow myself in a lot of different ways, so that’s kind of the common connector of why I do all those things on the side.”

Tran’s parents emigrated from Vietnam to the United States, and are also entrepreneurs. “They didn’t go to school. They have their own nail salon, and they came over to a different country with essentially nothing, and then they built something for themselves,” said Tran. “I’ve always admired that so much.”

This year, Tran was named Executive Director of RaiseRED UofL after four years of volunteering with the charity. RaiseRED is the largest student-run philanthropic organization of the University of Louisville, and hosts a nationally recognized 18-hour dance marathon that benefits  Norton Children’s Cancer Institute and the University of Louisville School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics‘ Division of Hematology and Oncology. In the past 10 years, RaiseRED has amassed over $4 million benefitting research and patient needs. This year’s marathon will be held February 24 and 25.

“I’m a firm believer of serving under-represented communities,” said Tran. “You know, I come from one, my parents come from one. When you are in a position where you’re able to serve those who are underrepresented, it’s so important to do so,” she said.

Tran said one story she likes to share is when she was younger and did food drives with her aunt for church. “We were putting food in containers and my aunt said, ’Look at them. See the smiles on their faces?” That was like a core memory for me, a reminder of why I do this to make other people happy and to serve those who need it now,” she said.

With graduation looming in May, what will Tran miss about Speed School? “I’d say my favorite thing was the late night studying, that you do with your friend before exams come up,” she said. “It’s fun to see others motivating each other rather than being competitive. We were studying together in the same room with people working out the problems on the boar, and we’re all collaborating on how to get the answer,” said Tran.  “That’s not like one example, but that’s collectively some of my favorite memories of being a Speed School student.”

Tran is keeping her career plans open for post-graduation but considering a number of options, including getting into user experience in the industrial engineering field, or possibly down the line branching out for an MBA. “You can probably tell it’s very hard for me to kind of choose one path and like narrow myself down,” she said.