VACETS VTIC '96, July 1 - 3, 1996, GMU.


Nguyen Xuan Vinh, Ph.D. (Aero), D.Sc. (Math)

Professor of Aerospace Engineering

The University of Michigan

Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2118, U.S.A.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

I am very honored to be here today, just as six years ago, on the seventh day of May, 1990, when I had the honor to be among a group of Asian Americans invited to a Rose Garden ceremony at the White House for a presidential recognition of the significant contributions of Asian Americans to the progress of this nation we call the United States of America. It is in the hope to present to you our share in these contributions to science, technology and education in the past twenty years, here in this country and around the world, that the Vietnamese Association for Computing, Engineering, Technology and Science (VACETS) organized this international conference.

In 1975, after the fall of South Vietnam to the communists, in a sudden exodus, nearly one million Vietnamese left their native land and more than half have come to this country. According to the 1990 census, the number of Vietnamese-Americans (VA) settled in the U.S. was 614,547, and the immigration figure for Vietnamese in 1993 alone was about 59,614. Following this trend, the estimated VA population in the U.S. in the year 2000 will be more than 1.4 million. Thus, within a few years, this population will be larger than the population of some American states. This is obviously a significant constituency in American society. In 1992, at a conference on the shortage of professionals in Canada, Mr. William Winegard, the minister for science and technology at that time, said, "We won't have a competitive society if we don't have the people to make it competitive." Statistics from the recent census show that the new Vietnamese immigrants have helped to make this society more competitive. According to the 1990 census, among people of Vietnamese background, 58.9% had finished high school and 15.9% had college degrees. Furthermore, the census also showed that of the Vietnamese-American population, 10.7% were professionals and 20.8% were in the labor force. These numbers compare well with other foreign-born groups.

If we take a look at the achievements by the United States in any field of endeavor in recent years, we will see some Vietnamese involvement. For example, there are over 280 Vietnamese-American inventors with three or more U.S. patents. One of them, Dr. Doan Trung of Micron Corporation, in Boise, Idaho, has 72 patents. Medicine is one of the areas where the young Vietnamese generation excels. Across the United States, from Harvard University to the University of Chicago, and the University of California at San Francisco where the top medical schools are located, we see Vietnamese medical students in white uniforms learning the profession and graduating with honors. A conservative estimate places the number of Vietnamese physicians practicing in this country at close to 2500. This means that we have on the average 3.5 doctors for every 1000 Vietnamese-Americans, a ratio otherwise attained only in some wealthy localities. Some students later become teachers. We now have several prominent Vietnamese professors in American medical schools. One of them, Dr. Nghiem Dao Dai, who initiated an innovative procedure for pancreatic transplantation in patients with Type I diabetes, is one of the speakers in this conference. Right here, in the Washington D.C. area, each year there is a listing of the top physicians as voted by their colleagues. They are the ones fellow doctors would send their relatives to if they were to get sick. You can see a Vietnamese name, Dr. Trinh Duc Phuong, in the sub-specialty of infectious disease. He has made the list three years running. His brother is on the faculty of Johns Hopkins Medical School.

We come from a country where, half a century ago, the standard means of locomotion was the bicycle. Yet, our youngsters have accepted the challenge of learning to fly supersonic aircraft. One of them graduated at the top of his class at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. We have at least one person in the distinguished corps of astronauts, Dr. Eugene Trinh, who flew on a space shuttle mission and is also an astrophysicist with an outstanding research record. As other examples of significant contributions in science and technology, I can mention Mr. Nguyen Thanh Tien who received the NASA Exceptional Medal Award for his unusual contribution to the success of the Galileo mission, and also Dr. Nguyen Manh Tien, the recipient of several honor awards and member of the NASA-Jet Propulsion Laboratory delegation to the international Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS). With our devotion to our professions, we are steadily climbing the ladder in the industrial hierarchy and, at the same time, earning the respect of our American colleagues. Dr. Cai Van Khiem is a shining example. With many patents for his inventions, he became the youngest engineer to hold the position of "Chief Division Technologist" at Hughes Aircraft Company.

Many of us have opted to teach at universities and professional schools as a way of propagating knowledge and, at the same time, in Asian tradition giving back what we have received in our learning process. On both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, at the University of Sorbonne in Paris, and at Harvard University in Cambridge, Vietnamese scholars are listed on the faculty rosters. Of those who, besides their scholarly studies, have spent generously their times promoting the welfare of the Vietnamese community, I can mention Professor Nguyen Manh Hung at George Mason University, Professor Cao Huu Tri at California State University at San Jose, Professor Nguyen Huu Xuong at the University of California at San Diego, Professor Ha Thuc Tri at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Professor Ngo-Dinh Thinh at California State University at Sacramento, and Dr. Hoang Van Duc at the University of Southern California School of Medicine. This list can go on and on because those of us who subscribe to the ideal of scholarship also believe in the service to humanity. Some of the achievements by the new immigrants are extraordinary as have been reported in the news media. Professor Xuong's laboratory in San Diego was officially recognized by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a National Research Resource. His invention, the famous Xuong's machine, has greatly contributed to the study of protein structure in cancer research. In Canada, Mrs. Hoang Thieu Quan became the first woman to serve as Director of Finance for the city of Montreal. In 1991 the budget she oversaw was nearly two billion dollars. At the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, Dr. Le Trai was the first female professor to receive tenure in the Law School. For the past twenty years, she has the sole responsibility for teaching Commercial Law besides several other courses in her area of expertise. She has taught every law student going through the institution during that time. These facts were reported by Dr. Carol Ann Mooney, a colleague of Professor Le in the Law School, and a Vice President and Associate Provost at the University of Notre Dame.Some of our younger professionals were also on national news. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T), Dr. Nguyen Tue holds the record of receiving five bachelor degrees ranging from Physics and Mathematics to Electrical Engineering before settling in a Master's degree and then a Ph.D. degree in Nuclear Engineering. These gave him a total of seven degrees from M.I.T. in seven years. Recently, in May 1996, we saw on national television the selection of a young medical graduate, Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Quang, as ABC's Person of the Week. He has overcome critical brain damage after an automobile accident to graduate with distinction from Baylor College of Medicine in Texas.

If you have visited our Exhibit Area, you should have noticed that some of our professionals were also entrepreneurial. If you ask any one of these Company Presidents to publish his autobiography, Its reading would be fascinating. For example, Dr. Phung Lien Doan, with a Ph.D. degree in Nuclear Engineering from M.I.T. and more than 100 technical papers to his credit, would have a comfortable life as a chief scientist at a government laboratory or as a full professor at a prestigious university. Yet, he took the risk to start his own company which now becomes the very successful PAI Corporation, an energy and environmental consulting business, with more than 300 degreed engineers and scientists who work out of seven offices across the United States. Dr. Phung and his wife have put some of their earnings in a Scholarship Fund, now totaling over one million dollars. The fund is providing 500 cash awards every year to deserving students in Vietnam. Mr. Dinh Duc Huu is another shining example. His American Technologies, Inc. in Tennessee was nominated by the Department of Energy for award as the Small Business of the Year for 1995 because of its $20 million in revenue for the year. Three years before, at the end of 1992, when after many unsuccessful proposals, ATI finally received its first contract, it was for only $4,000 from the Corps of Engineers in New Orleans, to remove an underground storage tank. Mr. Dinh believes that if you keep doing the right thing, with the help of God and the support of your family, success will come your way.

The Vietnamese have an excellent family tradition of togetherness. In a paper published in the February 1992 issue of Scientific American by Drs. Caplan, Choy and Whitmore from the University of Michigan, the scholastic success of the Indochinese children is credited to the support from their parents. In this respect, the Chu family in northern Virginia has set a magnificent example of scholastic achievement. With the encouragement of the parents, all four children in the family have completed their professional and graduate studies in various areas from business to medicine and electrical engineering with highest honors.

This togetherness in the family has been transmitted into the brotherhood in our professional community. Through the effort of dynamic organizers, we have several professional societies in many countries. Among the most active organizations, I can mention the Society of Vietnamese Canadian Professionals in Toronto with Dr. Le Xuan Loc as its President, the Vietnamese-American Science and Professional Engineering Society in California with Mr. Le Van Luc and Mr. Bui Toan in its leadership, and the Vietnamese Professional Society of Professor Vu Quy Ky in Georgia with chapters all over the world from Norway to Australia. Finally, we should give a special recognition to VACETS, the association which organizes this international conference for its effort to promote cooperation and partnership between Asian-Pacific and Western engineers and scientists to work together on new ideas and developments in science and technology for the benefit of mankind. The association is ably run by a competent and devoted executive committee with an advisory board of prominent personalities in engineering, science and education. The association Past President is Dr. Tran Thong with advanced degrees in electrical engineering from Princeton University. He is now the Vice-President of a Biotronik company in Oregon which specializes in pacemaker and defibrillator products. The current president is Dr. Hoang Viet Dung who is the son of a highly respected Vietnamese scholar. Dr. Hoang has a long list of achievements in communication technologies and is now a Senior Staff Engineer with the MITRE Corporation, headquartered in McLean, Virginia. In the coming year, the responsibility for coordinating the affairs of the association will be in the hands of the President-Elect, Mr. Le Mong Thao who is now completing a Ph.D. degree in Control and Statistics at the University of Maryland. Mr. Le is presently a lead engineer at a U.S. Federal Government agency.

Distinguished Guests

It is certainly a great honor for me to present to you a brief record on the achievements of Vietnamese professionals in this country and abroad. It is also a rare opportunity for me to be among a group of brilliant and dedicated young men and women, the future eaders of the overseas Vietnamese community. Therefore, I would like to ask your permission to use a few minutes to address them directly.

My dear fellow professionals.

In my brief presentation to our honored guests, I have mentioned a few examples of our contribution to science, technology and education in a short time span of twenty years. I can add to that list hundreds more cases since each one of you who are present here can easily provide me with several pages of your own achievements. I believe, as a group, what is important is not how much we have contributed but how we have achieved it.

Two years ago, I was invited to give the keynote address at the annual celebration of the Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month at the Headquarters of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the theme for that year's program was "Dedication, Dignity and Distinction." I have found these three D's particularly appropriate for us as the first generation of Vietnamese immigrants. Twenty-one years ago, we came to this country, unprepared to start a new life in a new land. But with our dedication to the ideals upon which the United States was founded, we have studied hard, in schools and in real life, to make ourselves useful to this society, and have branched out in all areas of science and technology and now we have earned the respect and admiration of our fellow citizens. We have brought our own customs, and traditions from our ancestral homeland to enrich the wonderful multi-racial culture of this nation, known and respected in every corner of the world as the United States of America. Here, we are seen as Vietnamese-Americans. We treasure that distinction, because it carries with it the reputation of a self-respected and economically successful community. But, in this society, we are not an isolated group. We are distinct, but we do not stand alone because our group is a component, and each one of us is a member, of a great society. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., truly a great man, once said, "Everybody can be great because everybody can serve." The impact of our service, from each of us individually, is minimal. The contribution from each of us, in building our society, is just like a single brick in a very large building. All these single bricks, when put together, will make a whole, a building, a monument. In this country, we can have access to everything because we are treated as equals but do not forget that we also have our equal share of responsibility in shouldering the building of the democracy. For the past thirty years, my line of work, either in teaching or in research, has been more or less related to space sciences. You may expect me to discuss something such as "The benefits of space exploration to mankind." Well, for one good day, I would like to stay down here, on Earth, to talk about something that is close to our heart. That is because if we have an outer space, we also have an inner space to explore.

Some years ago, a former student of mine by the name of Ronald Bernard Avington, himself a member of a minority group, put together a collection of his poems. It was published by Vantage Press in New York under the title "Expressions from Inner Space." That space engineer and poet sent me an autographed copy of his book and I read it from time to time. Let me read to you a few verses that may give us some food for thought:

That inner exploration involves learning and searching in our soul and finding for ourselves the way to live in harmony with our own environment, at home, in the office or laboratory, in the classroom or the construction site, and more importantly, in society as a whole. Please remember that although we are distinct, we are not a separate group. Love and respect everybody, and do not think of ourselves as the best, the number one. Believe me, one is a lonely number.

Some of us set our goal very high. The sky is the limit! But some of us, because of our inherent modesty, just aim at a reasonable level of achievement. But our life must be a continuous progress. We must go higher and higher, step by step, each day closer to our vision of our dream to make it a reality some day. As one of us, Dr. Eugene Trinh, the astronaut, has experienced: when we launch a spacecraft, to get to the outer realm of space, we construct a multi-stage rocket, and we get there by stages. The first stage propels the spacecraft 50 miles high, the second stage takes over, and finally the third stage. A space rocket has the inner power, with solid or liquid fuel compressed. To progress, we must develop our inner power. And that inner power is our dedication to our duty as a professional, as an equal member of a democratic and great nation. Professional training is not enough. We may reach the heights of professional achievement, but devoid of love and appreciation of the people around us, our individual successes will mean absolutely nothing, if we have no one to share them with. As Americans of Vietnamese heritage, we belong to a minority group. We have friends in our own group. Make our group friendly with other groups, even if we compete with each other, because if we have competition, it means that we have a common goal. Then, let us all be friends. Let us join forces to reach that common goal, to make this country truly a great one to live in.

Our journey across life can be compared to the flight of an aircraft across a vast ocean. Sometimes we are favored by a tail wind which gives us a faster ground speed. But on occasions, we may face a head wind with adverse effects. As the first generation of immigrants, we are the pioneers, and we may run into obstacles. Just as the aircraft has to get to the other side of the ocean because it has passed the point of no return, when facing the head wind in our life, such as in the case of social injustice, we should keep our heads high, our chins up, and then with physical endurance, and technical and spiritual strength, with dedication and dignity, we shall overcome adversity to make our dream of equal opportunity, equal right and equal responsibility, a reality. Let us continue to work harder and harder, but always in harmony, and then through mutual assistance, helping each other, training, tutoring and educating, to expand our group and ultimately to give the Vietnamese-American minority a stronger voice, a dignified place in the United States where, in four years, we will step into the twenty-first century.

With this hope, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your attention.