Ngo Thi Phuong Lan, USSH – VNU – Ho Chi Minh City

Setting High Expectations for Leadership

Dr. Ngo at the 2017 Summer Institute for United Board Fellows.

In 2018, Ngo Thi Phuong Lan was named the first female president of the University of Social Sciences and Humanities (USSH), Vietnam National University – Ho Chi Minh City. She brings high expectations to her leadership role: “A leader always puts the good of the whole above the good of the individual; has the utmost spirit of responsibility when performing any task; and possesses a devoted attitude, always promoting the spirit of service in every activity of the institution.” Her description reflects both the 24/7 nature of her position and her sense that a university president should be a model for students, faculty, and staff.

Dr. Ngo had not yet been named USSH president when she and 20 other Asian educators participated in the 2017-2018 United Board Fellows Program. The program’s Summer Institute introduced Fellows to the “four frames of leadership” – structural, human resources, political, and symbolic – as a key to understanding their own leadership styles and exploring new ways to respond to challenges. Short-term placements gave Fellows an opportunity to compare their institutions’ management practices to those of other Asian colleges and universities. These experiences, from the United Board’s perspective, help build a community of leaders for whole person education.

Whole person education, Dr. Ngo points out, is already part of the fabric of USSH. The university’s core values are “creativity – leadership – responsibility” and its educational philosophy is “whole person – liberal – multicultural.” Translating those goals into action requires attention to curriculum design, pedagogical practices, assessment and evaluation, technology in education, quality assurance, and students’ extracurricular activities. From Dr. Ngo’s point of view, that requires a leader who combines both “we” skills – someone who invites the participation of stakeholders – and “I” skills – someone who is willing to make difficult decisions and be held accountable for them.

Inspired in part by her experience in the United Board Fellows Program, Dr. Ngo has been energetic in expanding USSH’s community of stakeholders to include alumni and businesses. Alumni Liaison Boards at the university, faculty, and departmental levels host activities to promote bonds among alumni and connect them to developments at the university. Businesses are encouraged to be collaborative partners by providing student scholarships or employment opportunities for graduates. These relationships, Dr. Ngo finds, are about much more than financial support: “Most importantly, they provide invaluable emotional support for the continued growth of this institution.”

Dr. Ngo (center, in pink dress) with faculty at a women’s leadership event.