Where Are They Now: Nick Kim Sexton '17

In this series, our assistant director, Matt Lynn, connects with Novogratz Bridge Year alums to see where life has taken them after Princeton.  In this first installment, Matt speaks with Nick Kim Sexton ’17. In 2012-13, Nick traveled with Bridge Year to Varanasi, India, where he collaborated with NIRMAN, an organization that aims to provide inclusive and innovative learning experiences for people of all ages and backgrounds.

The following includes excerpts from their conversation: 

Matt Lynn (ML):  Hi Nick!  It’s great to talk to you.  What are you up to these days?

Nick Sexton (NS):  Hi Matt!  Nice to meet you.  I’m living in San Francisco, where I currently work for Google.

ML: Oh. That’s great.  What do you do at Google?

NS:  I’m a product manager for Chrome. I mostly focus on search – exploring ways to make it easier for people to find what they are looking for. In my role as a product manager, I spend time listening to users to understand the challenges they run into when browsing the web. Once we are confident in what problem we are solving, I rally my teammates from different roles like engineering and UX design to create features.

ML: That sounds fascinating. Are there any skills you gained on Bridge Year that help you in your work?

NS: One of the most important skills in my role is empathy, which Bridge Year helped cultivate for me. Chrome is a global product. Therefore, it has been key for me to imagine myself in the shoes of people in different cultural contexts– including in developed markets with high internet penetration, and developing ones where tech habits vary.

ML: That’s very cool. Switching gears a bit, but in the same vein of empathy, what kinds of things do you do to stay engaged in your community today?

NS: Since Princeton, I have focused on being civically engaged through advocating for change in spaces where I have a seat at the table. Through collaborating with talented teammates with disabilities and recognizing the way that mental health disability in particular has impacted the Asian-American and LGBTQ+ communities, I’ve become motivated to destigmatize and increase access for people with disabilities.  For example, a couple years ago at work, I led a trip to Denver for me and coworkers to learn from the city’s history of disability activism. In Denver, we met with engineers focused on building new assistive technologies. We took away new ideas for how we can better support people with disabilities in the features we build.

Last year, I felt disheartened by the rise in anti-Asian violence and the mental health crisis catalyzed by the pandemic. I decided to fundraise for the Asian Mental Health Collective, which strives to “de-stigmatize mental health within the Asian community.” The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) folks have the lowest help-seeking rate of any racial/ethnic group. Raising money for my community was one way to make a small dent in a huge challenge.

ML: I really appreciate you sharing that, it sounds like you are actively participating in communities you care about. How do you think Bridge Year continues to inform your life today?

NS: Bridge Year helped me cultivate a growth mindset that influences how I continue to approach life. Bridge Year helped me grow– not in spite of the challenges, but because of them. I arrived in India as a naive 17 year old. During the program, I learned to build community with my groupmates and local folks in Varanasi, I learned Hindi, and I learned to teach in a classroom. By the end of the year, I felt resilient and empowered. Through Bridge Year, I learned that, with perseverance and self-compassion, most goals that seem scary at first are attainable.

ML: These are such important insights! I have one last question, Nick—we’re about to start recruitment for our 2022-23 program – so, what advice would you give to a future Bridge Year student?

NS: Prioritize self-care. Regardless of how much research you do, there will be parts of Bridge Year that are unexpected, and it’s OK if that catches you off-guard and you need some time to recharge. While in India, my self-care looked like: finding alone time to journal, having quality 1:1 catch-ups with close friends in the group, making time to exercise, and learning to meditate. Self-care on Bridge Year looks different for everyone – so I encourage you to keep an open mind about what self-care will work best for you.