Lumetta brings ECE Illinois expertise to Ho Chi Minh City

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By Lauren Eichmann, ECE Illinois
September 25, 2007

  • Prof. Steve Lumetta taught at Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology in Vietnam as part of a two-week long expedition this summer.
  • The project was funded through the Vietnam Ministry of Education and Training aimed to modernize the Vietnamese education curricula.
  • According to Lumetta, the electrical engineering faculty at Ho HCMCUT has adopted the Illinois electrical engineering curriculum for their modernized program. He taught 39 students in an introductory computer engineering course for three hours a day. A three-hour discussion section was held each afternoon as well.

Steven S. Lumetta
Steven S. Lumetta

This summer, ECE Associate Professor Steven S. Lumetta taught at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology (HCMCUT) in Vietnam as part of a two-week long expedition funded through the Vietnam Ministry of Education and Training (MOET).His trip, from July 11 to July 27, was part of a larger initiative by MOET to modernize the Vietnamese education curricula, including instructional content, teaching methodology, management, and evaluation.

Last fall, nine departments from various selected U.S. partnership universities were visited by Vietnamese representatives. Three of the departments they visited were at Illinois: Materials science and Engineering, Chemistry, and ECE. Professor Thanh Tin Dang of HCMUT observed Lumetta’s ECE 190: Intro to Computer Engineering and, subsequently, Lumetta was invited to teach in Vietnam.

Under the sponsorship of the Vietnam Education Foundation, the U.S. National Academies also sent a number of its members to Vietnam to interview and identify promising graduate students to come to U.S. universities. Illinois is currently home to nearly forty Vietnamese graduate students, of which about 15 are in the ECE Department.

According to Lumetta, the electrical engineering faculty at Ho HCMCUT has adopted the Illinois electrical engineering curriculum for their modernized program. He taught 39 students in an introductory computer engineering course for three hours a day. A three-hour discussion section was held each afternoon as well.

Most of the material was meant as simply a review for the students, who spent the bulk of the semester learning the material from Professor Dang, but the amount of outside work and teaching pace had to be reduced by about twenty to thirty percent compared to his normal lecturing style at Illinois, Lumetta said.

“It’s pretty different culturally from what the students I think expect, relative to their previous education, and relative to the other programs and what their peers might be going through,” said Lumetta. “Historically, Vietnam uses a European-style education system largely adopted from the French while they had been occupying Vietnam in the early part of the twentieth century.”

Part of the European style of education focuses on memorization of material, which U.S. professors are trying to reduce or eliminate in order to focus on more problem-solving skills and critical and independent thinking, Lumetta said. 

Although Lumetta said at times the cultural differences made teaching somewhat difficult, most of the students knew English. In fact, 99 percent of Vietnamese students opt to take English as a second language in junior high and high school.

“Sometimes it’s a little difficult because the students don’t have the right expectations going in, which is why I think they wanted to bring someone from the U.S. there to communicate that,” he said. “I was able to meter the class by simply asking a lot of questions. I would make sure they were following by asking them to do a little more derivation than I would probably do when I’m [at Illinois].”

In addition to lecturing, Lumetta also hosted two seminars; one focusing on the U.S. Education system, the other on a combination of funding models and actual research.

“We were very enthusiastic about this [program] because we feel like it is a very good opportunity for Illinois to have an influence in the Vietnam education system,” said Minh N. Do, ECE assistant professor. “There will be a whole new generation of students trained in an Illinois teaching style and methodology that can be spread all over [Vietnam].” 

Do, who grew up in a small northern town in Vietnam where he still has family, acts as the program liaison for Vietnam and the U.S. He became involved in 2004 when he and ECE Department Head Richard E. Blahut traveled to Vietnam to recruit potential Illinois graduate students.

“We hope [the Vietnamese students studying at Illinois] will return to Vietnam and become the new generation of faculty,” said Do. “I think we are serving many purposes here [with this program]; on one hand we are making the Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology better and providing better working environments for our future alumni, but also creating a much better link to the U.S. on multiple levels — from the institutional level, to the current students, to the image of the campus.”

Do will return to Vietnam in December for a workshop arranged by the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training. It will feature an evaluation of the experiences of those in the current program, and offer additional information and advice.

Lumetta said he felt it worthwhile to get a better understanding of the Vietnamese culture, and would go back to teach if he was invited. Right now, Illinois faculty have the option to spend part of their summer in Vietnam if offered a position. Lumetta was the first to accept an invitation. He has even kept in contact, via e-mail, with one of his top Vietnamese students, who wanted advice on a project.

Overall, Lumetta said he was impressed by some of the students in Vietnam, and has to consider those he would recommend to come to the U.S. for graduate school. The acceptance rate for admission to Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology is around six percent, which is fewer than Illinois accepts, said Lumetta, who acknowledged that it is a competitive school with bright students.

Last month, the president of Vietnam and the minister of education and training came to Washington D.C. for the first time since the Vietnam War. “They mentioned that this particular program is the highlight of their effort in improving their higher education system,” Do said.

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at bradp@illinois.edu or (217) 244-6376.

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