Vietnamese Students Exposed to American Learning at Illinois

ECE News

Maureen Wilkey, ECE ILLINOIS

Story Highlights

  • ECE Assistant Professor Mink Do traveled to his homeland of Vietnam to interview students who would benefit from a U.S. education.
  • Do hopes to gain some recognition for Illinois through the program.
  • Of the 1,000 students who applied for the program, Do helped select 30 students to come to Illinois.

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the first government-funded exchange students from Vietnam since the Vietnam War are working towards their master's and doctoral degrees in science and engineering.

ECE students Cac Nguyen, Quang Nguyen, Chinh La, and Hien Nguyen surround ECE Professor Minh Do.
ECE students Cac Nguyen, Quang Nguyen, Chinh La, and Hien Nguyen surround ECE Professor Minh Do.

Electrical and Computer Engineering Assistant Professor Minh N Do returned to his homeland of Vietnam in 2004 with representatives from the Vietnam Education Foundation, an independent federal agency funded by the U.S. Congress with the purpose of improving relations with Vietnam through education. There, Do interviewed several of Vietnam’s top students to determine which would benefit most from an education in the United States.

“In the new generation of Vietnamese students, everyone had heard of MIT and Harvard, but not a lot of students had heard of Illinois,” Do said. “We’re working to gain some recognition, and also to have Vietnamese students that are able to go back and show their country how the American education system works.”

Do said that education in Asian countries is very different than in America. At Illinois, students are encouraged to engage in active learning by performing their own research as well as think critically and question their teachers and professors.

“In Vietnam, they don’t really teach independent thinking. The students who have come here are getting exposed to a new system,” Do said. “It’s going to change the way they learn and they can bring the system back to Vietnam to make the talents of other students stronger.”

Out of the 1,000 students that applied for VEF fellowships in 2004 from Vietnam, 150 were selected to be interviewed after multiple rounds of testing. Of those 150, Do helped select 30 students to come to Illinois; about half of them are currently working on degrees in the ECE Department. After completing their degrees, the VEF program requires the students to return to Vietnam to work. Do said that many of them will become professors or maybe start their own companies.

“Whatever they do, they will be the future leaders in science and technology in Vietnam,” he said.

Cac Nguyen, who started her doctorate in ECE in 2005, hopes to finish her degree in three more years and go back to Vietnam to become a lecturer.

“Being in the U.S. is a very different environment for me,” she said. “I will be able to bring back a lot of what I learn from the research I am doing here.”

Chinh La, a master’s student who did his undergraduate work in Australia, said his main reason for coming to America was curiosity, but he found the education systems in America and Australia very different from his experience in Vietnam.

“Here, we are encouraged to do a lot of group work and a lot of presentation,” he said. “You’re encouraged to study and question what your professors say here.”

Ha Thai Nguyen said that after doing his undergraduate studies in France, he felt like America was a lot easier to adjust to.

“I can find places where they serve Vietnamese food and people who speak Vietnamese,” he said. “There are so many different cultures here, and everybody is different, so it’s not really that hard to adapt.”

In addition to students from Vietnam coming to the U.S., the ECE Department is planning to have faculty members travel to Vietnam to teach at Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology. While they will teach electrical and computer engineering courses in English, Do thinks there will be a lot of cultural differences that the professors will experience in Vietnam.

“During the Vietnam War, we were enemies, so in the old generations a lot of people react to seeing Americans differently,” Do said. “But now, people in Vietnam have a lot of willingness to learn from Americans.”

Do said the Vietnamese students have been doing very well in American classes; one even won the IEEE award for best signal processing paper. He feels that the education exchanges will help build a bridge between the Americans and the Vietnamese which will help heal the wounds caused by the war. He also hopes that Illinois will become one of the leading institutions Vietnamese students look forward to coming to in the future.

For more information on the Vietnam Education Foundation, visit

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