Friday, May 24, 2024

Carol Nguyen Steen


Carol Nguyen Steen has a personal reason to be involved in her community, whether that be serving with groups that help laid-off workers brush up on interviewing skills, people facing eviction or someone having difficulty navigating the healthcare system.

Her parents, Nguyễn Văn Tĩnh and Nguyễn Thị Hiệp, came to the U.S. from Vietnam in 1975, the year the war ended there. Her father had fought against the North Vietnamese and would have gone to prison if he had stayed, Steen says.

“When he and my mom came over with the first wave of refugees, there were companies that made a difference in their lives,” she adds. “That was a great opportunity for them to have. That gift was just instilled in myself and my brothers.

“It’s a way for me to feel like I’m honoring my parents, by giving back to a country that opened its doors to my family,” she added.

Her parents, along with four aunts and uncles, worked for IBM in upstate New York before the company relocated the family to Charlotte in 1981, when the company opened its computer manufacturing plant. That was the year of Steen’s birth.

A graduate of Charlotte’s Independence High School, Steen has a bachelor’s degree from UNC Chapel Hill and an MBA from N.C. State University. After a decade in the Triangle, she followed her boyfriend, and now husband, Justin Steen, to Mars Hill in western North Carolina, where he was raised. They now live in Asheville with their 9-year-old twins.

She is vice president of talent and human resources for the Cecil family’s Biltmore Farms development firm, which owns hotels, apartments and other commercial real estate property in Buncombe County. Justin Steen is an assistant prosecutor with the District Attorney’s Office.

Her original move west was in 2009, and she says she felt a bit like a “trailing spouse,” even though she was not yet married. Steen says she missed her connections in the Triangle but found her in the Young Professionals group of the Asheville Chamber of Commerce.

“I first got involved because I was trying to find a connection not being from here,” she says.

Before joining Biltmore Farms, Steen worked in human resources for the city and Mountain Area Health Education Center. She’s active in many community groups, including an informal group of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, who held a series of events in Buncombe County in January involving food, traditional dress and customs. The group came together during the pandemic, when Asians reported more instances of violence and harassment nationally. Unlike her previous haunts, Asheville does not have a large Asian population.

“Hate is what sort of brought us together and since that time there’s been more gatherings to celebrate our heritage and really being proud of who we are in a community that may not look like us,” she says.

The community events held last month may be a “first step toward us serving as a community and displaying our positive cultural history.”


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