Illinois, Vietnam National University agree to share ECE curriculum, create exchange program
The route between Champaign-Urbana and HoChiMinh City, Vietnam, is about to get busier.
In August, the University of Illinois and Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology (HCMUT) signed an agreement that would allow HCMUT to use Illinois’ ECE curriculum. In addition, the contract formalizes an exchange program for undergraduate students between the universities.
HCMUT chose Illinois as its partner because of its reputation, its relationship with faculty members, the large number of Vietnamese-American students who live in this region and a growing presence of Vietnamese students who currently study here.
“The University of Illinois is one of the finest engineering universities in the United States and the whole world,” says Vu Dinh Thanh, Rector of HCMUT, whose position is similar to that of a chancellor. “If we were going to choose one university to model, Illinois was it.”
The agreement makes official a relationship that has emerged between the engineering departments during the past few years.
Beginning in 2007, Illinois professors have traveled to Vietnam to teach engineering courses and seminars to both undergraduate and graduate students. ECE Associate Professor Steve Lumetta made one trip last year and recently returned from teaching a two-week course of ECE190: Intro to Computing Systems at HCMUT. And earlier this summer, ECE Professor Doug Jones and Assistant Professor Minh Do hosted a two-week seminar in digital signal processing for 60 of the country’s top students as well as 5 graduate students from the U.S. The seminar was funded in part by the National Science Foundation and the Vietnam Education Foundation.
From Memorization to Innovation
From HCMUT’s perspective, the collaboration with Illinois is an opportunity to overhaul its engineering education, currently based on an old model that emphasizes memorization instead of innovation. Both Jones and Do, a native of Vietnam, noted the difference between education styles during their seminar this summer.
“What really stood out is that the students, who were all very bright and motivated, had some difficulty taking what they learned in a theoretical class and applying it in a hands-on situation,” said Jones, who taught an ECE lab course during the workshop.
Do said that as Vietnam seeks to compete in an international marketplace, it is struggling with the task of educating a new generation of students who can come up with creative solutions to technology challenges in a rapidly changing world. In addition to retraining students, HCMUT also is retraining educators. And the university is counting on Illinois to help with that process.
The universities are engaging in a faculty exchange, with more Illinois faculty heading to Vietnam for short stints while HCMUT sends its educators for intensive training here.
“The idea is to immerse these educators in U.S.-style teaching and to let them see how hands-on learning looks in a classroom,” says Do, who helped engineer the agreement between the universities.
Lumetta said he has already noticed a change in students’ capabilities since his first trip last year.
“The students showed a marked difference in their level of preparation in comparison with the students last year,” he said. “In particular, they seemed to have done more significant lab/programming work this year and had watched my videotaped lectures from last year.”
Benefit to Illinois
Of course, Illinois also stands to benefit from the partnership. HCMUT intends to send some of its brightest undergrad and master’s students to Illinois to conduct their Ph.D. work. And as the relationship continues to develop, there may come a time when the universities offer a joint degree.
In addition, Illinois will also reap rewards from technology transfer between the universities. As communication lines open up, professors will share ideas and solutions with each other.
Perhaps most importantly, Illinois students who take advantage of the cultural exchange will have a greater understanding of working in a global marketplace. Indeed, the American students who participated in the seminar led by Do and Jones have already established an online forum to connect with Vietnamese students.
“The multicultural experience they received can’t be understated,” Do said. “It’s helping them expand their professional network and preparing them to succeed after graduation.”