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Boise State MBA graduate rises to prominence in Vietnam

Tran Thi Van Hoa at National Economics University
Tran Thi Van Hoa at National Economics University

-Story by Boise State Distinguished Professor Nancy Napier

The first time I met Tran Thi Van Hoa, she told me her name meant “flower” and it made sense. Hoa’s face is heart-shaped, wide, and bright. She beamed.

Today, she still beams but her face also carries the responsibilities of being a vice-rector in charge of academics and research at the National Economics University. That’s the equivalent of being provost at an American university. Despite her administrative responsibilities, she continues to conduct research and publish books and articles in national and international journals. We were fortunate to have her in the second Boise State Vietnam MBA class. She graduated with the class of 1997.

Hoa’s journey was not easy. She was born the first of six in what she calls the “sleepy village” of Vinh Phuc. Her parents brought the family back to the city of Hanoi when she was still a child. Even though Hoa excelled at math, she struggled in other areas. When she “played school” with other kids, they mocked her penmanship, grammar and writing, which became a major focus for her.

Hoa’s abilities improved dramatically over time. She learned the value of practice, not giving up, and that she could do something when she put her mind to it. Those skills helped later when she was to start the Boise State MBA, taught in English. She learned enough English to take part in the program in just six months.

Over the course of her career, she attended a doctoral program at Waseda University in Tokyo and finished the degree at the National Economics University. She was the dean of the university’s business school from 2008 until her promotion to vice-rector in 2015.

Hoa with other Vietnamese students.
Hoa at a celebration of Tet, the Vietnamese New Year.

In Vietnam, Hoa and a group of her colleagues started the country’s first MBA program for Vietnamese managers at National Economics University. While dean, she helped launch the business school’s bachelor’s degree in business, taught in English. She also created a doctorate in business administration and multiple executive development programs.

She became a full professor in 2019 with over 100 publications and national recognition.

Hoa’s husband is also a professor and her daughter, who went to college in the United States, now lives in California. Outside of her regular duties, Hoa is involved in several academic groups in South East Asia and works with women’s associations in the region. She was also on the Hanoi City Council from 2011 to 2021.

Hoa spent six weeks in Boise during the summer of 1997, taking classes and doing an internship with Cisco. She remembers some of her favorite professors, including Kirk Smith, Rob Anson, and Zeke Sarikis. One of her surprises in Boise was when the Vietnamese participants and Boise State faculty and internship supporters met at my house for dinner. She was shocked that my husband, Tony Olbrich, prepared the meal.

In Vietnam, women cook. Husbands usually stay out of the kitchen. Hoa said the dinner inspired her to “learn more about gender roles and to fight for gender equality in Vietnam.”

Who would have expected a man cooking dinner could inspire such a change?