On Thursday, September 13, 2018, in Hanoi, the U.S. Embassy and the Vietnam Education Foundation hosted a legacy event to pay tribute to the many accomplishments of the VEF Program. Over 50 VEF Alumni Fellows and Scholars gathered in Hanoi, where they shared their experiences and celebrated the success of the program.

“We are very proud of the many accomplishments of VEF since its inception in 2000,” stated Sandy Dang, the Executive Director of VEF. Ms. Dang further added that “The relationship between the United States and Vietnam is stronger because of our VEF alumni, fellows, and scholars.” Acting VEF Board Chairman/U.S. Department of State Delegated Board Member Tim Marshall agreed and indicated that “VEF has played a crucial role in helping to build bridges between the United States and Vietnam. Its educational exchanges in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) have been particularly beneficial to Vietnam’s development.” VEF was created by the U.S. Congress in 2000 under the Vietnam Education Act as an independent U.S. federal agency to establish an international fellowship program that would allow Vietnamese citizens to undertake graduate level studies in the STEMM fields or pursue professional development at universities in the United States and U.S. citizens to teach in these same fields of study at universities in Vietnam.

VEF legacy event in Hanoi

The creation of VEF was a bipartisan effort among Members of the U.S. Congress including U.S. Senators John McCain and John Kerry. The VEF fellowship program sought to encourage the development of science and technology in Vietnam as well as to build a stronger bilateral relationship to serve the interests of both countries. In accordance with its legislative mandate, VEF will permanently sunset on December 31, 2018.

In 2017, VEF hired an independent firm in to conduct a detailed evaluation of its progams. The evaluation centered on the impact of VEF’s programs on its Fellows and Scholars, and more broadly on VEF’s impact on the development of higher education and the STEMM fields in Vietnam. The evaluation generated a high level of interest among VEF Alumni, Fellows, and Scholars. The survey response included 473 VEF Fellows and Scholars out of a total number of 665, or an average response rate of more than 70% among of VEF alumni.

The findings of the evaluation report demonstrated that VEF has achieved the goals of the Vietnam Education Foundation Act. These goals were as follows:

(1) To establish an international fellowship program under which:

1. Vietnamese nationals could undertake graduate level studies or conduct post-graduate

research in the sciences including engineering, mathematics, medicine, and technology in

the United States; and

2. United States citizens could teach in the fields specified above in Vietnam at Vietnamese

institutions of higher education.

(2) To encourage and strengthen the development of science and technology in Vietnam.

(3) To further the process of reconciliation between the United States and Vietnam while building a bilateral relationship serving the interests of both countries.

Over the past fifteen years, VEF awarded nearly 700 fellowships for graduate study, research, and teaching. Of this total, almost 600 were awarded for graduate study. In addition, approximately 400 Fellows have received PhDs, and over 130 Fellows have received their Master’s degrees. More than 50% of VEF fellows have received a degree in computer science and engineering. Also, VEF has awarded over 100 grants to scholars from Vietnam and U.S. for teaching, research and professional development. Each of the VEF exchange programs benefited from an exceptionally strong participant selection process, which university and Ministry partners in Vietnam have expressed interest in duplicating. The selection process for Fellows and Scholars was merit-based, credible, and transparent. The selection of Fellows was considered objective in part because of the composition of the interview panels. Other components of program administration that were highly regarded included the immigration support provided by VEF and the timely transfer of funds to the U.S. universities.

Overall, U.S. university administrators consistently noted that it was one of the easiest international fellowship programs to administer and cited the effectiveness of VEF’s staff.

Many of the VEF Alumni have achieved outstanding success and have made significant impacts on the lives of others. PHAN Minh Liem, Cohort 2005, Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences, University of Texas, Houston; LE Thi Ly, Cohort 2004, Ph.D. in Chemistry, University of Utah; DUONG Tuan Hung, Cohort 2004, Ph.D. in Chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, TRAN Hung, Cohort 2008 University of Iowa, Ph.D. in Computer Science, have been exemplary models of success in Vietnam.

Dr. PHAN Minh Liem was identified as one of the 10 Vietnamese Most Outstanding Youths in 2014 by Vietnamese Government for his contributions to biomedical science, cancer research, and community service. Dr. Liem and his team have established the Vietnam - USA Biomedical Institute with the mission to create a comprehensive and high quality cancer center in Vietnam to help fight cancer. This institute has received professional support from experts of MD Anderson Cancer Center and American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics. Dr. Liem is also serving as a Founder of Elsee Medicine, a cancer genomics startup in the US, and the Editor-in-Chief of Vietnam Journal of Science.

Under VEF sponsorship, Dr. LE Thi Ly graduated from the Ph.D. program in Computational Chemistry from the University of Utah (2010), followed by two years of training at the Centre for Bioinformatics and Molecular Modeling of the National Institutes of Health at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (2008-2010). She is one of the youngest lecturers promoted to the rank of Associate Professor at International University which belongs to Vietnam National University Ho Chi Minh City.

Dr. DUONG Tuan Hung leads research on resolving industrial and environmental issues at the Institute of Chemistry at the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology. He has served as vice principal investigator for two national-level research projects that were evaluated as excellent; one of these was identified as one of the “Ten Best Scientific and Technological Achievements in Vietnam in 2014.” Dr. Hung coached Vietnam teams for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) in 2012, where his students received First Prize/1 Participating Team and in 2013, two Fourth Prizes/4 Participating Teams.

Dr. TRAN Viet Hung founded Got It, a company that uses artificial intelligence to connect experts in different fields together with its users seeking expertise on different topics. Got It attracted over $11 million in start-up capital and had operations in Silicon Valley as well as Vietnam. Beyond its achievements to date, the evaluation report shows that VEF is leaving behind a powerful legacy that will continue to carry on its mission among its alumni and in support of the STEMM fields in Vietnam. Several initiatives will continue this legacy. Among these include the Vietnam Journal of Science, which was established in 2015 by a group of VEF Fellows to provide an English-language journal for Vietnamese scholars in the STEMM subjects. Also, an independent, alumni-directed organization named VEF 2.0 was founded by a group of alumni to continue programmatic aspects of VEF to help develop new placements for Vietnamese citizens seeking study abroad opportunities in the United States. VEF’s support of its alumni network and the public narrative training has recently conducted with alumni in Vietnam on leadership and communication will benefit the country long into the future.

VEF is directly involved and supporting several programs that will continue after it closes. The VEF Alumni Small Grants program, which is a partnership effort by VEF with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam, intends to support the VEF Fellow and Scholar community in Vietnam by supporting alumni including assisting them with re-entry transition back to Vietnam, strengthening the VEF alumni network, sustaining existing connections, and building new collaborative relationships with fellow USG alumni and other key stakeholders through alumni grants and other activities. Additionally, VEF has partnered with the University of Virginia on the Mekong Data Project to provide a unique opportunity for the professional development of VEF alumni by enabling them to participate in developing a research database and catalog of the Lower Mekong Basin’s critical physical and ecological infrastructure, systems, and processes.

As former President Bill Clinton said in 2000 during the first official visit by a U.S. President to Vietnam, “You can be—indeed, those of you in this hall today must be—the engine of Vietnam's future prosperity.” President Clinton’s words at Vietnam National University announced the creation of VEF. Since that time, VEF can proudly look back on its history to know that it has contributed significantly in building bridges between the United States and Vietnam, bridges that will improve the prosperity and overall future of both countries for many years into the future. VEF Executive Director Sandy Dang stated that, “VEF is very proud of our alumni and what we have accomplished. We will do all that we can to continue our legacy and work of building educational exchange between our countries. We will look forward to an even brighter future.”

Reported by Hoang Linh - Hong Nhi