Vietnamese Intel Scholars look ahead

When Huong Ha was 12 years old, she’d play with electronic devices instead of modeling her mother’s dresses. She broke her father’s new watch while trying to disassemble it.

When Huong Ha was 12 years old, she’d play with electronic devices instead of modeling her mother’s dresses. She broke her father’s new watch while trying to disassemble it.

“I was like a boy growing up,” Ha said, “I would put nails into walls.”

Ha later parlayed her early interest into a college education when she chose to study electrical engineering at Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology in Vietnam. Today, the 23-year-old student is a Portland State graduate, one of the 28 students who make up the Intel Vietnam Scholar’s first graduating class.

Created in 2009 with a $2 million Intel investment, the program selects top students from six universities in Vietnam to complete bachelor’s degrees in either electrical or mechanical engineering at an American university.

The purpose of the program is two-fold, Intel representatives said: students receive a U.S. education and also are poised to begin an engineering career with Intel in Vietnam.

Vietnam Scholars was created in response to a foreseen shortage of engineers in Vietnam, according to Marcia Fisher, assistant dean at PSU’s Maseeh College of Engineering.

All of the scholars graduated with honors, and five graduated summa cum laude, achieving at least a 3.9 GPA.

Ha graduated cum laude with a 3.7 GPA.

Intel’s corporate affair manager Uyen Ho said the success of the students demonstrated to Intel that engineering students from Vietnam have lots of potential to succeed.

“One PSU professor said that the Vietnamese students raised the standard for the rest of the students in class,” Ho said. “They set the grading ‘curve,’ so to speak.”

Student Khoa Tran said he didn’t think he’d get a call back from Intel when he applied to the program two years ago.

“I had applied for several companies before and I didn’t get it, so I was very nervous when I applied for Intel,” Tran said, “I put my application in primarily just to challenge myself.”

Students who applied for the program were asked to demonstrate their skills working in groups and pass a 45-minute English interview. For both Tran and Ha, the interviews with a PSU professor and two Intel staff members were nerve-racking.

“They spoke too fast. It was hard for me to understand,” Ha said. “I remember feeling a bit sad afterwards.”

Growing up in a working class family with two siblings, Ha said her parents were proud that she graduated college. According to Ha, students in the U.S. received more practical research experience in laboratories than students in Vietnam, where research labs are more restricted.

Mechanical engineering student Duc Le said he was initially surprised by the interactive nature of an American classroom.

“The professors at PSU were easier to talk to. In Vietnam, professors only give lectures,” Le said. “Over here, professors care whether students understand the material, and the class size is smaller.”

Another difference between the two curriculums, according to Le, is that students face only one final exam in Vietnam, a different approach than American quizzes, mid-terms and finals.

Fisher said that the 28 students were required to enroll in Intel’s summer bridge program, helping make the transition to American academia easier.

Intel also requires students to take at least 16 credits per term.

Tran, who graduated magna cum laude with a 3.82 GPA, said he felt that the level of support he received from Intel and PSU over the past few years has been wonderful.

Intel foots the scholars’ full tuition, room and board, and a living stipend. Vietnamese-American mentors are available to help the students.

 “I want to say ‘thank you’ to the people at both PSU and Intel who helped me,” Tran said. “I feel very lucky to have received this opportunity.”

According to Ho, the 28 students will start their Intel careers July 4. After three years there, they’ll decide whether or not to stay with the company.

All Intel engineers receive health benefits, transportation reimbursement and free meals.

Fisher said she believes the students will have better career opportunities in Vietnam now that they’ve graduated from PSU.

“We expect that they will be leaders in their field,” Fisher said, “Their career path is certainly bright.”

The second class of Intel Vietnam Scholars, which has 24 students, will graduate in 2012. According to Ho, Intel is in the process of determining whether there will be a third class of students, depending on the company’s needs. ?