Campus: Northridge -- May 09, 2007

CSUN Engineer Wins Fulbright Scholarship for Vietnam Research

(NORTHRIDGE, May 09, 2007) ó But for his overwhelming desire to make a difference in the world, Cal State Northridge assistant mechanical engineering professor Nhut Ho might have found contentment amid the oil and fumes of an auto garage in his native Vietnam.

"Had I stayed in Vietnam, I probably would not have gone to college," said the hard-driving young director of CSUNís Ernie Schaeffer Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the College of Engineering and Computer Science. "Iíd be a car mechanic; Iíd be fixing your car."

Instead, his love of auto mechanics fueled an even greater passion for engineering, which in turn propelled him toward an ambitious undertaking that has earned him a grant from the Fulbright Scholar Program, respected as the nationís flagship program in international educational exchange. Ho departs in spring 2008 for research in Vietnam.

In a nutshell, the professor proposes "to help key stakeholders in Vietnam improve their educational process." As the country makes a transition to a knowledge-based economy, he said, Vietnamís universities assume a greater role as engines for economic growth.

Ho hopes to add "substantial value" to initiatives already begunóby the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training (MOET), the U.S.-funded Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF) and the World Bank, among othersóto upgrade the countryís engineering education infrastructure and to increase the effectiveness of teaching university undergraduates who are studying computer science, electrical engineering and physics.

A critical component that has yet to be studied in those efforts, believes Ho, is a thorough understanding of the needs of industry stakeholders with vested interests in Vietnamese college graduates. Also needed is a system of benchmarks to judge how well Vietnamese university curricula are meeting industry needs.

Ho will spend a semester in engineering and education research, "half quantitative and half qualitative," interviewing university faculty, administrators and alumni to assess graduatesí personal and interpersonal skills and language proficiency, as well as the level of their communication, teamwork, and critical thinking skills.

"Iíll also be working with foreign and local companies in Vietnam to help articulate what they need from graduates in terms of skills sets, knowledge and attitudes," said Ho, whose host institutions will include the Ho Chi Minh City University of Economics and the American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam, which represents American companies in that country.

Hoís determinations will result in a report to be published in venues such as the International Engineering Education Digest.

"Vietnam is a developing country," he said, "and we want to help improve its standard so that its graduates can be internationally competitive with graduates in Taiwan, India and some of the other southeast Asian countries."

Ho grew up near Ho Chi Minh City, studying there until 1988, when he immigrated with his family to the U.S. Completing all of his math, calculus and physics courses early, he took classes at Cal State Northridge while still in high school.

He wasted no time in making a difference, volunteering to tutor other young immigrants in English both as a high school student and while at USC, where he completed his bachelor of science degree in three years. Later, he volunteered as a teacher at the Vietnamese Cultural Institute in Boston while earning his doctorate at MIT, and returned periodically to his native country to help improve educational administration through information technology and computerization.

"The Fulbright calls you a cultural ambassador," Ho said, "but I see myself more as an education ambassador. I want to build bridges among key stakeholders and get them to work together. Itís important for Vietnam to see that instead of making incremental changes, which you can always do, why donít you leap frog?"

Ho offered an illustration that recalled his love of cars. "In Vietnam, we didnít have toys. To make a toy car, you could get a sandal and cut out some wheels. Youíd take a Coke can and wrap that into a body, and put a piece of wood in for the chassis.

"This project is meaningful to me on that level," he said, excited at the prospect of properly educating students through every step of the process. "As an educator, publishing and writing are great, but itís more important to go back to your roots and make a difference in peopleís lives."

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