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LSU alumna Calli Nguyen grew up watching “Wizards of Waverly Place” on Disney Channel. Now, she’s learning how to act from David Deluise, who played the fun-loving father, Jerry Russo, on the show.

Along with acting, Nguyen is a first-generation full-time medical student. She graduated from LSU in May 2022 and went on to a one-year biomedical and health equity program at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, where she’s studying to become a pediatric cardiologist.

While studying for her finals during her last semester at LSU, Nguyen learned about ABG Studios, an acting program where students can learn from former Disney and Nickelodeon stars. The program, founded by former Disney actor Deluise, is based in Los Angeles and holds virtual classes with some in-person workshops. 

Despite having no formal acting experience, Nguyen decided to apply and was accepted into the program.

“I started doing acting more and turns out I loved it, because I’m literally living childhood Calli’s dream…I never really thought that I would have a passion for acting because my entire life has just been healthcare, medicine, science, taking care of other people, but I felt like acting was something I could really do for myself more and put myself first,” she said.

Two of her family members died within a short time frame during her last semester at LSU, which Nguyen described as a difficult few months. She was left struggling with her mental health but found that acting helped her get through the pain.

“I was going through such a depression, a lot of stuff with my mental health…still trying to graduate and finish up my classes, and acting was really kind of that escape from it all, like ‘oh, maybe I can have another passion,’” Nguyen said.

After only a few months of training, Nguyen participated in an AGB Studios showcase, where dozens of talent agencies watched her self-tapes. Nguyen received eight callbacks – the most of anyone in her program. Shortly after, she signed with AEFH Talent Agency, which she described as “one of the top talent agencies in California.”

Along with attending medical classes at Baylor, she participates in virtual classes with various actors. So far, she said she’s learned from Deluise; Jennifer Stone, who played Harper Finkle on “Wizards of Waverly Place”; Anneliese van der Pol, who played Chelsea Grayson on “That’s So Raven” and Amber Frank, who played Taylor Hathaway on the “Haunted Hathaways.”

Nguyen also maintains a following on TikTok, where she posts vlog-style videos about her life and study routine. Her account has nearly 648,000 likes, with one of her most recent videos receiving 1.7 million views.

Nguyen said her time at LSU has prepared her for the ability to manage a busy schedule and persevere.

“I’m able to balance all this and really push through because of…my mindset…I was still able to basically push through, finish up my classes, graduate with all As, and I wouldn’t have been able to have that mindset had LSU not helped me gain those resources and basically pushed me,” she said.

Calli Nguyen

Calli Nguyen poses with her study notes at Baylor College of Medicine.

While it can be difficult managing both acting, content creation and medicine, Nguyen said her passion keeps her motivated.

“I’m a firm believer that your passions will move you and they will drive you to whatever you want to do in life, and that has really been my motivation – is my passions – and so for me…it’s really all about the balance,” she said.

While Nguyen is open to a career in either acting or medicine, she knows that both would be full-time jobs. If it came down to it, Nguyen said she would choose a big role over school because while medicine and healthcare would always be there, she believes acting is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“I’m just going wherever my passion takes me…Whichever one gives me the most opportunities and whichever one opens more doors for me, that’s the path I’m going to take,” Nguyen said.

Deluise believes dedication and hard work was the reason Nguyen was able to receive so many callbacks at their showcase.

“Calli took this seriously – that’s very important. She invested in her craft and it paid off,” Deluise said in an email interview.

Deluise said he sees “lots of success” in Nguyen’s future with both medicine and acting. 

“It’s good to follow all of your dreams. We are all very proud of her,” he said.

Michelle Tran met Nguyen at Baylor College of Medicine, where they’re both in the same program. Over the past few months, Tran has seen firsthand how Nguyen balances her busy schedule.

“She’s one of the most hardworking people I’ve ever met, honestly. She’s been through a lot and she has been so gracious enough to share that to me, and I can see through her hard work is going to pay off,” she said.

Tran said she and Nguyen bond over being content creators and often talk to each other about the stress that comes with being a student while managing a social media following.

“It’s been nice having someone to talk about things with, especially because not a lot of people that we know are in the same position as we are…We just had a test today and our group basically stayed up until like 2:30 this morning, and it’s really nice having people that are equally motivated and determined to do the same,” Tran said.

Nguyen’s mom, Phi Oamh Nguyen, said her daughter has always wanted to pursue medicine. When she started to express an interest in acting this year, Phi Oamh Nguyen fully supported her daughter and wanted her to have another passion, so she doesn’t focus on school all the time.

“I support [Calli Nguyen] 100%. I know that she still studies…She’s the first one in the family [to go to college], so we know how determined she is,” Phi Oamh Nguyen said.

Phi Oamh Nguyen said she’s never worried about her daughter pursuing acting while being a full-time medical student and that no matter what, she knows she’ll be successful.

“[Calli Nguyen’s] a very determined girl, very focused, so whatever she sets out to do, she plans it very well and she just goes for it,” Phi Oamh Nguyen said.