Around the world, women often feel torn between caring for their families, meeting cultural expectations and pursuing a career. However, the balance of these priorities is changing; careers – especially in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM – are increasingly recognized in women’s lives.
In Vietnam, for example, Arizona State University has become an agent of change in changing these perspectives through diversity and inclusion efforts. As an implementing partner of the BUILD-IT program, sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development, Building University-Industry Learning and Development through Innovation and Technology, the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU organize many events to help women get involved and progress. in the engineering and higher education professions.
“As people in the region learn more about the breadth of opportunities in STEM fields and women learn more about it, their eyes are being opened to the possibilities; they really engage with opportunities for advancement,” says Kathy Wigal, director of global operations for the Fulton Schools Office of Global Outreach and Extended Education, or GOEE, and project director of BUILD-IT.
While the Vietnamese government has made efforts to promote gender equality in the country over the past two decades, the leadership of higher education has lagged, with most positions still held by men.
However, Lac Hong University, or LHU, is exemplary in terms of female representation among its leaders. Women in the university hold high-level positions such as deans, vice-deans, and vice-chancellors, a position similar to that of a university vice-president in the United States. LHU has hosted many programs created by BUILD-IT over the past five years that have played a role in the success of the university.
Do Thi Lan Dai and Van Dinh Vy Phuong recently joined the management ranks of LHU, making history in their new roles. Lan Dai is the first female chair of the university council at LHU, and Phuong became the first woman to chair a STEM department when she took over the information technology department.
Lan Dai and Phuong have been actively involved for years in BUILD-IT programs, which Wigal says have “put women on incredible career paths.”
A range of opportunities
BUILD-IT facilitates programs that develop engineering and technical, entrepreneurial, educational, and leadership skills as well as other opportunities for professional growth.
Lan Dai and Phuong have enjoyed programs including Engineering in Community Service Projects, or EPICS, in which participants address local challenges through team projects; eProjects focused on collaboration with an industry partner; and the creator-to-entrepreneur training, which prepares participants to effectively develop entrepreneurial projects.
Other such programs include master teacher training workshops for innovative teaching methods; certified facilitator training to leverage academic expertise to improve faculty pedagogy; and industry advisory board best practices workshops and other leadership training.
While these opportunities do not target women only, BUILD-IT encourages female participation through all-female sections of the Engineering Projects in Community Service program and various workshops, in addition to bringing in female mentors and role models. . Currently, 31% of BUILD-IT program participants are women.
“We supported our university partners as they sought out opportunities to recruit and mentor women and make sure they felt comfortable,” says Wigal. “We want to make sure that women have the opportunity and the motivation to get involved. Sometimes the biggest obstacle is a lack of motivation and the feeling that they can succeed in the BUILD-IT and USAID programs.
Become an effective leader
Lan Dai, who entered the STEM field later in her career, says she faced a greater continuous challenge to earn the respect of technical experts at LHU, a private university focused on applied sciences. . BUILD-IT’s leadership and strategy training helped prepare her for her new role.
As president, Lan Dai heads LHU’s Board of Trustees, which advises the university’s rector and vice-rectors. The board of trustees—roughly equivalent to a university council or board of trustees in the United States—oversees the governance of the institution. While the rector is responsible for day-to-day operations, the board manages the long-term success of the institution, ensuring that assets and resources are managed and used effectively.
Through his participation in various BUILD-IT workshops, Lan Dai acquired the organizational skills needed to manage a large, complex university, learned key performance indicators for driving change and accountability, and discovered the importance of continuous improvement and establishing a culture of innovation. .
The training Lan Dai receives helps him in his new role, which includes ensuring that the university acts in accordance with its mission; review its finances and support fundraising and sponsorships; review curricula, curricula, and the extent to which online programs meet student needs; and think strategically about the long-term success of LHU.
Leadership training was a pivotal moment for Lan Dai.
“The leadership conference was an eye-opening experience for me,” says Lan Dai. “It made me realize that Vietnamese universities have a lot to do to reach the level that ASU has already reached. That said, it also got me excited about the possibilities of Hong Lake.
Developing skills for effective education
Phuong has been involved with BUILD-IT programs since 2017, when she was a faculty lecturer in LHU’s Information Technology program. Over the years, training has changed its outlook on education, particularly the importance of active learning models as well as industry and community involvement in curriculum development. She is now actively involved in the university’s efforts to gain accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, or ABET.
“I have changed a lot in my view of the close connection between teaching content, curriculum and learning outcomes,” says Phuong. “I have a clearer vision of management, research and [extracurricular] activities aimed at aligning university and faculty goals with [BUILD-IT] training, business requirements and student abilities.
She also improved her skills in critical thinking, interpersonal communication, problem solving, teamwork and taking initiative. Phuong even attended some training programs more than once, which she says has boosted her confidence in her job and helped her become a leader at LHU.
Now in her role as Dean, Phuong is an academic leader who coordinates the strategic direction of LHU’s IT faculty and integrates it into the university’s overall strategies. She will also recruit new faculty, support curriculum development, manage faculty resources and support, and other duties.
The future of female representation in Vietnamese universities
Just as it contributed to the success of Lan Dai and Phuong, BUILD-IT helps women from more than 15 partner universities across Vietnam to climb the ladder of higher education.
In a 2021 Gender Effectiveness Survey conducted by GOEE in which women expressed confidence in their abilities in STEM fields, 87% of BUILD-IT participants said they were somewhat or very prepared to implement leadership strategies, program quality improvement, applied program and faculty. development training. This percentage has increased over the past four years.
“As a woman in a leadership position, I was heartened to see that BUILD-IT placed particular emphasis on promoting women in STEM fields,” says Lan Dai. “It will be important for the advancement of Vietnam to nurture and promote each of its bright minds, regardless of gender.”
ASU and programs like BUILD-IT continue to work to expand the pool of female faculty. With role models and advocates like Lan Dai and Phuong leading the way, Wigal is confident that more young women will engage in STEM fields and take advantage of available opportunities, including those at GOEE and Fulton schools.
For Phuong, building her confidence was the biggest obstacle to becoming the lawyer she is today.
“I find that the biggest challenge for women to thrive and succeed in STEM is self-confidence,” says Phuong. “I have to believe in my abilities, believe in my way of doing things and have the courage to have the necessary arguments to express my point.”
She says changing attitudes to foster acceptance that women can do more than help others requires that women “be the doers”.
“Only then,” says Phuong, “will others, especially men, recognize and reassess the role and position of women in the scientific and male-dominated environment of STEM.”