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With the Tragedies of War Receding, U.S. Schools are Collaborating with American University in Vietnam

October 4, 2016

In Vietnam at the MOU signing in August: Wentworth President Zorica Pantić, seated far right; AUV President Roy J. Nirschel, center, and AUV founder Binh Thy Nguyen Tran, seated second from left.

In Vietnam at the MOU signing in August: Wentworth President Zorica Pantić, seated far right; AUV President Roy J. Nirschel, center, and AUV founder Binh Thy Nguyen Tran, seated second from left.

Wentworth’s Effort is Being Led by Native Who Escaped the Country
 

By Dennis Nealon

Wentworth Institute of Technology is among a group of U.S. colleges that are collaborating with American University (AUV) in Vietnam—a new institution in Da Nang that abuts ruins from the country’s war-torn past on one side and luxury hotels and golf courses on another.

Sitting a stone’s throw from where U.S. Marines landed and began to prosecute the Vietnam War in 1965, AUV offers a strong contrast from the suffering and turmoil that rocked the country for decades. The fledgling school is a harbinger of renewal and increasing modernity for Vietnam, a gateway to the education and work yearned for by many thousands of young people there.

Wentworth and schools ranging from New York’s state university system to the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and Texas A&M signed agreements with AUV in August, marking a new era of educational cooperation in Vietnam. The schools agreed to explore exchange programs, attract Vietnamese citizens to U.S. colleges and their degree programs, and help AUV flesh out its academic structure.

Wentworth’s outreach is being organized by Liem Tran, director of new program development for the Institute’s College of Professional and Continuing Education, whose own Vietnam odyssey is inspiring—perhaps even more remarkable than the reincarnation of Da Nang from a war base in the 1960s and 1970s to the most progressive and forward-looking city in Vietnam.

Tran was born in the Mekong Delta area in 1968 amid the mayhem of the Tet Offensive, a series of ferocious attacks by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops in more than 100 cities and towns against the allied forces of the United States and the government of South Vietnam.

Tran came close to being shot and killed when he was days old in his family’s hometown of My Tho. His mother had taken him outside where, with other neighbors, she was watching the Tet conflagration and was wounded in the shoulder, apparently by a stray bullet. Cradling Tran in her arms, she feared that he had been hit; that the blood running down her arm was his.

But Tran was unharmed, and his mother, Bach Tran, recovered. At 79, she is living with her son in the suburbs south of Boston. Liem brought her to the United States after he became a U.S. citizen in 1990.

Marines storm Da Mang in 1965
The U.S. Marines landing in Da Nang, 1965
 


Two Escape Attempts

One of nine children in his family—his late father, Quanh Nguyen, was a police officer in South Vietnam—Tran was 17 years old in 1985 when he successfully joined the hundreds of thousands of “Boat People” who had been fleeing Vietnam to get away from the country’s communist rulers and conflicts with China and Cambodia. It was Tran’s second attempt to leave the country; a bid a year earlier had landed him in jail for three months for what was considered an act of betrayal against the government.

“In Vietnam then I did not have any options,” he says.

In August, Tran returned to Vietnam again, this time leading a small Wentworth-AUV delegation that includes President Zorica Pantić and Deborah Wright, dean of the College of Professional and Continuing Education.

American University in Vietnam
American University in Vietnam
 

The New Da Nang

Today in AUV’s host city, some of the walls of U.S. military installations still stand, faded reminders of a brutal past. But Da Nang, according to AUV President Roy J. Nirschel, is poised to become one of the top cities in Asia over the next decade. Its population is dominated by people in their mid-20s who are focused squarely on the future and think of the Vietnam War as old history, says Nirschel.

“Vietnam pays homage to its past, but it lives in the present and looks forward to the future, said Nirschel. “We look forward to Wentworth’s being part of this next chapter.”

“With a building boom in Da Nang (and the country), Vietnam needs quality design and construction, professional management, and sensitivity to the environment.”


Liem Tran, center, at work at Wentworth
 

Wentworth’s Role at AUV

For the trip to Vietnam, Tran was joined by Pantić and Wright, whose father is a retired U.S. Army Infantry veteran who in 1965 fought at Pleiku in central Vietnam, 200 miles south of Da Nang.

Launched in 2015, AUV is the only privately funded, nonprofit, “American-style” university in Vietnam. The institution was founded by Binh Thy Nguyen Tran, a Vietnamese-American who returned to her country 20 years ago in hopes of helping orphans and providing education. The school offers general education courses and initial higher education degrees in business, hospitality management, communication and computer science. It plans to add courses in health-related fields and environmental studies.

“We think that distance learning, hybrid courses, exchanges and, ultimately, dual or joint degrees in the fields of construction, design and others can help ensure quality education for students, employability in the marketplace and a real contribution to society,” said Nirschel.

Pantić, Wright, and Tran met in Vietnam with Nirschel and representatives of Texas A&M and Virginia Commonwealth University. Pantić is a member of AUV’s International Advisory Board.

“The government is looking for programs that can actually prepare students for jobs,” said Tran. “You can see construction cranes everywhere in Da Nang.”

As a leader in engineering, technology, design, and management education, Wentworth has much to offer. Tran said online and certificate programs run by the Institute’s College of Professional and Continuing Education are especially appealing.

“We are interested in the working professional in Vietnam,” he said. “We can expose them to the construction industry and they can earn bachelor’s degrees or certificates either in Boston or through our online course offerings.”

In addition to the 17 bachelor’s degree programs it has in applied mathematics, architecture, business management, computer science, computer networking, construction management, design, and engineering, Wentworth offers certificate programs and master’s degrees in areas like applied computer science, architecture, civil engineering, construction management, facility management, and technology management. 

Wright said the partnership with AUV is an opportunity for Wentworth to build academic programs and an online component that will work specifically for adult learners in Vietnam.

“We have the chance to come in right at the beginning on that,” she said.

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