On June 22, 2021, the Mekong – U.S. Partnership Heroes Series published the story of Vuong Thi Ngoc Tuyet, illustrating her educational journey in a historically male dominated field. As a first-generation student, Tuyet studied engineering at Can Tho University where she participated in an engineering program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Arizona State University in support of the Mekong-U.S. Partnership. The story of Tuyet’s educational career in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) is the first in a four-episode video series that gained wide support on social media.
Raised in a family where women did not continue their studies beyond high school, Ngoc Tuyet had a strong desire to pursue an education in STEM. After graduating high school, Tuyet enrolled as a chemical engineering student at Can Tho University and has since stood firmly by her decision. Tuyet explains in the video, “In my family, women did not get a chance to receive a college education since women are usually saddled with household obligations. But I want to do something different. I chose education so that I can change people’s perceptions of what women can do – and that was also how I convinced my parents to let me attend university.”
Tuyet discusses the challenges of being one of only four girls among 120 students in her university cohort, “When I first joined the university, I was shy and passive. As the minority, I did not dare to speak up or voice my opinions. Even when I wanted something, I did not know where to start,” she remembered.
Tuyet soon joined the Engineering Projects in Community Service program (EPICS), an award-winning social entrepreneurship program made available to students in Vietnam through funding by USAID and Arizona State University. As Tuyet recalls in the video, EPICS strongly supports women’s participation and encourages students to collaborate on innovative practical solutions that can directly benefit their community.
During her participation in EPICS, Tuyet met many like-minded, talented young women. She worked in teams with other undergraduate students to design, build, and deploy solutions to solve problems in their community. In her first year, Tuyet and two other young women invented a candy made of rice bran to help diabetic patients manage their diets, a project designed to help people like her mom, who suffers from diabetes. Last year, she led a team to build a safe, high capacity, and easy-to-use roller pesticide sprayer for farmers to use in orchards instead of carrying the heavy sprayers on their backs. This invention won the team the first prize at the National EPICS Contest, motivating Tuyet to continue her work in STEM.
Tuyet has been able to draw on her experiences as a woman to support the ideas she has for innovations, Tuyet explains, “As a woman in a male-dominated field, I can embrace my femininity and draw inspiration from it. I like to set my mind to problems that women are facing every day. Last year, my team invented a clothes dryer designed specifically for the rainy season. We want to make a positive change and play a role in the sustainable development of the environment for the people of the Mekong.”
Tuyet’s journey has inspired many young girls and other underrepresented individuals in rural areas to pursue a STEM based education – including her younger sister. “I am not as good a student as my sister, so I am a little nervous about joining a STEM course. But she has been encouraging and guiding me… She is the person I look up to. Even now, she is asking me to join EPICS next year,” Tuyet’s sister said.
Tuyet wants to pursue a career in renewable fuel, stating “My dream is to work as an engineer at an oil and gas company, but I heard they only hire women for office work. Be that as it may, I will still apply after graduation. I am ready to show anyone that I can do anything male colleagues can.”
The Mekong – U.S. Partnership supports the goals of Tuyet and many others in the Mekong region. The partnership provides accessible opportunities for academic and professional training and networking with like-minded individuals. With more than $150 million initially allocated to cover regional initiatives, the Partnership is expanding its portfolio to include a range of economic security, governance, health, and environmental efforts to address shared challenges in the region.
The story of Ngoc Tuyet is the first a four-episode video series portraying the lives of everyday heroes from the Mekong region. Released by U.S. Embassies and Consulates in the region, the videos celebrate the positive impacts of cooperation under the Mekong-U.S. Partnership, launched in September 2020, and the 2009-2020 Lower Mekong Initiative.
The other videos in the series can be viewed on https://www.facebook.com/usembassyhanoi and https://www.facebook.com/USConsulateHCMC. For more information about the Mekong – U.S. Partnership, please visit https://mekonguspartnership.org/.