USAID Helps Vietnamese Professor Amplify Innovation in Engineering Education

Speeches Shim

Monday, May 18, 2020
Dr. Phan Thi Mai Ha (third from left) with fellow lecturers during a training session.

Born into a family of educators, Dr. Phan Thi Mai Ha dreamt of becoming a lecturer since she was a child. That dream came true in 2001 when she became a lecturer in the Department of Industrial Systems Engineering at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology. However, even though Ha was confident in her engineering expertise, she was off to a rocky start and struggled to prepare lessons where her students could learn both technical and soft skills. She recalls, “Starting my career, I brought plenty of insights from my field into my classes, but I had little training in pedagogy. I always doubted myself as an educator.”

Wanting to grow confident as a teacher and help her students master their coursework, in 2016, Ha joined the Master Teacher Training Program led by the USAID Building University-Industry Learning and Development through Innovation and Technology (BUILD-IT) project. This rigorous training-of-trainer program focuses on innovative instructional approaches to classroom teaching and helped Ha adopt interactive teaching techniques that transformed her classes from a one-way lecture into a two-way dialogue. Inspired by the benefits of the training program, Ha helped create an online version of the program’s curriculum, and now leads interactive teaching workshops for her peers both in the classroom and online. Through her persistent efforts, Ha has transformed from a struggling lecturer to a peer mentor who leads professional development at her institution. She also leads students and faculty at her university as they implement technical design/engineering competitions adopted from American engineering schools. 

“My colleagues and I have created a robust learning environment where faculty from all over Vietnam can come together to share their techniques, ideas, and teaching experiences,” said Ha. As a result, students and faculty from across Vietnam are better able to design lessons and complete projects that develop the work-ready skills students need to succeed. Her impact on both teaching and learning is a testament to the value added when faculty take a leading role in improving a university’s learning outcomes. 

Starting in 2015, BUILD-IT is the third major investment in higher education by USAID and a growing consortium for industry and academic partners in Vietnam. The project is helping Vietnamese universities produce graduates with the skills that Vietnam’s increasingly sophisticated economy demands. BUILD-IT also supports women’s participation in technology and engineering programs through leadership forums, academic initiatives, and scholarships.