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Ha Nguyen ’21PHD: ‘Education is the Key to Helping People Create a Better Life for Themselves’

As a college-level lecturer in Vietnam, Ha Nguyen realized she could reach more students in more classrooms by improving teacher performance. Now, with her Ph.D. in Teacher Education and Learning Sciences, Nguyen hopes to use the skills she developed in the NC State College of Education to increase educational access and quality for disadvantaged students in developing countries. 

Learn more about Ha Nguyen

Hometown: Danang City, Vietnam

Area of Study: Ph.D. in Teacher Education and Learning Sciences Literacy and English Language Arts (LELA) Education program area of study

Activities: In terms of research, I have had opportunities to attend and present at conferences and webinars in and outside the United States (e.g., The TESOL Association, The LRA, and The VietTESOL Conferences). I have been able to publish two co-authored book chapters with my colleagues and my supervisor. 

With a strong focus on education in the industry, I have been taking various leadership roles in a wide variety of organizations at national and international levels. Since 2017, I have worked alongside the US Embassy in Vietnam and my colleagues to organize the annual VietTESOL Conferences (the biggest international conference for English-language teachers in Vietnam). In 2017, alongside my colleagues, I helped co-found the VietTESOL Association (the first and only national association for English-language teachers in Vietnam). I have worked as the vice president of public relations for the Capital City Toastmasters public speaking club in downtown Raleigh. I have worked as the College of Education ambassador for the Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs at NC State University. I have also been active on the leadership board of the TESOL Intercultural Competence Interest Group and the World Council on Intercultural and Global Competence. 

Why did you choose the NC State College of Education? 

I chose the NC State College of Education for my Ph.D. program for several reasons. First, the Ph.D. program at the NC State College of Education has a good ranking in the country, which will give me credentials in my future career, especially in developing countries. Second, the Triangle offers a college hub with three prominent universities and an industry hub with big companies. Third, Raleigh is accessible to mountains and beaches with beautiful warm weather that I appreciate as a person who grew up in a coastal city in Vietnam.

Why did you choose your area of study?

Being a college-level lecturer teaching students and teachers for five years in Vietnam, I realized the power of teacher training in improving educational quality at scale. By improving teacher performance, I can reach out to more classrooms than I usually can and ensure that more students have quality learning experiences. By doing so, I can maximize my contribution and impact in education and country development.

What do you hope to accomplish in your field after graduation?

My passion and long-term goals are to improve educational access and quality for disadvantaged students in developing countries through global English-language and intercultural-competence teacher training and program management. In addition, as I see an increasing need for soft skills for professionals in developing countries, I want to start an institute where I can utilize my expertise and connections in the U.S. and Vietnam to provide soft skill training for young professionals and companies in developing countries. These soft skills include leadership skills, intercultural competence and public speaking skills. Also, using the results of my dissertation, I want to develop an intercultural competence model and training program tailored to the needs and characteristics of English as a second and foreign language teachers in developing countries. Finally, I hope that I will work as a consultant for the United Nations and the World Bank in their global educational programs with all my efforts in the field.

What’s your next step? What do you have planned after graduation?

I am seeking administrative roles in global English language and intercultural competence programs at universities, companies and global nonprofit organizations. I am open to administrative opportunities that arise in the future in teacher training and international student programs.

How has the College of Education prepared you for that next step?

First, a Ph.D. from the NC State College of Education gives me the credentials to build my reputation in the field, especially when my future work targets developing countries. Second, the research skills, knowledge and practice I have gained from my time at the College of Education have strengthened my ability as an educational researcher, practitioner and leader. Third, I have had opportunities to meet and work alongside many dedicated and inspiring educators who have influenced the way I view leadership and the field. Finally, studying at NC State and in the U.S. has brought me many opportunities to broaden my worldview and extend my efforts beyond national levels that I would not be able to otherwise.

Do you have a favorite memory from your time in the College of Education?

One favorite memory was walking down Hillsborough Street on snowy days with my close classmate. We talked and shared lots of experiences with each other. I also will not forget the days and nights I spent working online with my Zoom study buddies in and outside the College of Education in the final months of my dissertation. There were lots of memories and emotions.

Tell us about an experience you had with the College of Education that had the biggest impact on you or your career.

I have been passionate about fighting poverty and gender inequity. However, because Vietnam is a homogeneous country, I was unaware of the complexity of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) issues until I came to the U.S. Learning about DEI and witnessing DEI campaigns in and outside the campus, I have learned to be vocal and proactive about the social causes I am passionate about. In addition, I have learned that DEI is a long process. The progress may be steady, but it’s time has come.

Why did you choose education?

My passion for education stems from the time I was in elementary school. My close classmate had to give up her schooling to make ends meet to support her male siblings, because her uneducated parents could not afford her education. Every day after school, I made fried rice for her, with a naive thought that it could help her out. However, after a few days, I realized that I would not be able to do this forever. As the saying goes, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” I learned that education is the key to helping people to create a better life for themselves.

What are your research interests and what inspired those interests?

My first research interest surrounds native speakerism, the discrimination and biases against nonnative English language teachers. This interest stems from my experience and observation as an English teacher in which English as a second language and foreign language teachers are often viewed as deficient or ineffective despite their academic degrees and teaching experiences. My second research interest is intercultural competence training for English language teachers. Due to the recent chaos in the U.S. and the world’s socio-political climate, I am aware that intercultural competence is vital in bridging people across cultures and maintaining world peace.