By Meghan Hendrickson
More than 9,000 miles separate Waco from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, but Baylor engineers are shortening the educational gap between Baylor and universities in Vietnam.
Dr. Benjamin Kelley, dean of Baylor engineering and computer sciences, spent his past two summers teaching an engineering biomechanics course to students at Hanoi University of Science and Technology in 2009 and the Vietnam National University-International University in 2010.
Kelley was chosen to teach in Vietnam in response to the U.S. Faculty Scholars program that was launched in 2008 by the Vietnam Education Foundation, a U.S. federal agency established during the Clinton administration. The purpose of the Vietnam Education Foundation is to build a stronger relationship with Vietnam by means of scholarships for Vietnamese students to study science and engineering in America and the recently added program for U.S. faculty members to teach in Vietnam.
“My youngest son was born in Vietnam and when I read the Vietnam Education Foundation announcement of their new program, I wrote a proposal application and was fortunate to be selected to participate,” Kelley said.
Kelley was not able to stay in Vietnam to teach the entire course of engineering biomechanics, so he spent the first two weeks and final two weeks of the course lectures in Vietnam and spent the remainder of the semester teaching from Waco.
Rhett Rigby, doctoral student of exercise, nutrition and preventative health, was a biomedical engineering master’s student who assisted Kelley in his research and course development in the summer 2009.
Rigby traveled to Hanoi to join Kelley for two of his early lectures and then stayed behind for nearly two weeks to supervise the distance learning software that Kelley was using from Waco to teach his Vietnamese students.
Rigby said that he took away several rewards from his experience, including having to research and compile information to help Kelley develop his own custom textbook from scratch for the students in Vietnam. He also felt that his eyes were opened to the culture of Vietnam that most tourists do not see.
“The greatest lesson I took away from this experience was enhanced collaboration,” Rigby said. “Dr. Kelley and I got the opportunity to teach them a subject that we are both passionate about, and they got the opportunity to teach us what life is like on the other side of the world. This was an incredible experience that I will cherish forever.”
Kelley was initially surprised to find how well-received he was when he travelled to provide further education in Vietnam.
“I was quite anxious the first time I visited, wondering if there would be animosity left over from the war,” Kelley said. “I found that the opposite is the situation. The Vietnamese people seem to love everything American.”
It is this global impact that served as the driving force for Kelley’s visits to Vietnam.
“Vietnam is an emerging economy, growing even faster than China’s,” Kelley said. “But their higher education system lacks some of the innovation, engagement and application that we have in America.”
Kelley said his role, in addition to teaching the engineering biomechanics course for students to put their theoretical knowledge to work and gain experience in writing and presentations, was to bring the Vietnamese university the teaching methods employed in America. He said he has also been able to assist Vietnam with connections to other American universities and with accreditation and assessment processes.
Kelley’s research in Vietnam has focused on the effectiveness of the senior-level engineering course he taught. He said his teaching style had to adjust because he was entering into a different culture, but it was still necessary for him to offer an engaging environment.
Kelley said one added challenge was successfully utilizing distancelearning software, such as Facebook, high-definition video and other teaching tricks to reach the students in the optimum way.
Longview senior Rachel Unruh assisted Kelley while he was teaching overseas by creating a Facebook group for the Vietnamese students to stay connected about course material and for networking purposes. She said she was delighted to find several Vietnamese friend requests waiting for her and is happy to now have friends in Vietnam thanks to the social media website.
“The opportunity to assist with this class has been very fulfilling and rewarding, and it is a great feeling to impact the education of students like me who live on the other side of the world,” Unruh said.
Kelley witnessed a changing atmosphere in Vietnam and hopes that America will continue to grow alongside of Vietnam.
“When one thinks or hears of Vietnam, they often think of the war,” Kelley said. “We are sensitized to that, but the people of Vietnam have moved beyond. It is exciting to have first hand experience at such an exciting time in Vietnam’s history.”