Helping women in Vietnam become academic leaders

Two Vietnamese women made history on a college campus in Vietnam when they obtained university leadership positions in fields where women are underrepresented.

Do Thi Lan Dai and Van Dinh Vy Phuong, leaders at Lac Hong University (LHU), demonstrate how women can succeed in science and technology.

Lan Dai is the first woman to serve as chair of LHU’s board of trustees, which advises the university rector and vice rectors. Phuong became the first woman to lead a STEM department when she became dean of the university’s Faculty of Information Technology. The appointments were made in 2022.

Both women participated in the U.S. BUILD-IT program, which prepares Vietnamese, many of them women, for leadership positions in technical fields. Arizona State University carries out the program, which was developed and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The BUILD-IT program, which stands for Building University-Industry Learning and Development through Innovation and Technology, is active at 13 universities in Vietnam.

Breaking barriers

Do Thi Lan Dai standing among a group with four other people (USAID BUILD-IT Project)
Do Thi Lan Dai, center, chairs the board of trustees at Lac Hong University. (USAID BUILD-IT Project)

Lan Dai said the program helped her gain respect from her peers. As the leader of the university’s board of trustees, she is responsible for strategic tasks such as reviewing the university’s finances, engaging in fundraising efforts and academic planning.

“As a woman in a leadership position, I was heartened to see that BUILD-IT placed a particular emphasis on promoting women in the STEM fields,” Lan Dai says. “It will be important for the advancement of Vietnam to nurture and promote every one of its bright minds, no matter what gender.”

Vietnam opened 100 new universities between 2006 and 2013 as part of a national drive that opened opportunities for women to take more leadership positions in higher education. The share of young adults with a college education tripled between 2004 and 2018.

USAID’s higher education initiatives in Vietnam intend to help 150,000 students develop skills necessary for a more competitive global market.

Inspiring confidence

Van Dinh Vy Phuong standing in front of building (USAID BUILD-IT Project)
Van Dinh Vy Phuong, dean of the Faculty of Information Technology at Lac Hong University, in front of the Engineering Building (USAID BUILD-IT Project)

Phuong began participating in the BUILD-IT program in 2017. As dean of the Faculty of Information Technology, she recruits faculty and plans the curriculum, using leadership skills she honed in the training.

Women who want to succeed in the STEM field need one key ingredient, Phuong noted.

“I find the biggest challenge to overcome for women to thrive and succeed in STEM is self-confidence,” she said. “I must believe in my ability, believe in my way of doing things and be brave enough to have the necessary arguments to express my point.”