Tran Thi My Hanh hoped the semester she is spending in Blacksburg improving her English and studying entomology would help her combat the pests and pesticides that keep her native Vietnam from thriving in global markets.

She is finding, however, that her semesterlong stay is teaching her even more.

Hanh is the deputy head of plant protection at the Southern Horticultural Research Institute in Vietnam. There, she identifies and manages pest issues that threaten food security on such crops as mango, dragon fruit, and lychee. Her team’s work has significantly increased fruit yield and ignited a spike of up to 30 percent in marketable fruit.

In recent years, economic growth has accelerated in Vietnam, yet the country’s rural populations continue to face poverty. Her team collaborates with Virginia Tech’s Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management, which brought her to the U.S. to improve her English for promoting her team’s work to wider audiences, publishing manuscripts in American journals, and introducing her colleagues to new research and ideas.

“Coming from Vietnam, I can really say that Virginia Tech is known around the world,” said Hahn, who is taking classes in the Language and Culture Institute’s Intensive English Program. “While here, I have improved my listening, speaking, and writing skills. I have also gained access to new books and can read entomology articles much easier now, which will benefit my work helping smallholder farmers manage their crop threats.”

Her work here is paying off. Hanh has been selected as a finalist for a scientific blog contest in English, has prepared several manuscripts for publication, and has hosted a booth at Hokie BugFestwhich she said she would not have been able to do without her Blacksburg experience. 

With mentorship from Women and Gender in International Development, which is hosting a major gender conference at The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center in February, Hanh has been introduced to university courses in gender, a subject that is new to her as a scientist.   

“In my country, we don’t necessarily consider gender in our work, but now I am able to see why gender researchers might be interested in agriculture,” Hanh said. “I feel happy that I am learning from experts.”

Muni Muniappan, director of the Innovation Lab, said that while Hanh leads a team in Vietnam and has a doctorate in plant protection, studying in America will help her prepare for future pest threats in her country.

“We have a very positive relationship with our collaborators in Vietnam, and Hanh is a major part of that,” Muniappan said. “Her team is doing important work protecting and improving fruit crops, but a global perspective will help them to gain knowledge about insects from around the world, acquire access to new resources like valuable texts, and get a sense for how other institutions operate in times of crisis or change.”

Hanh said that when she returns to Vietnam in December, she won’t miss the biting cold that comes off the Virginia mountains; however, she’s especially eager to share with her colleagues back home the tools she’s picked up while at Virginia Tech.

The Innovation Lab is housed at the Center for International Research, Education, and Development, part of Outreach and International Affairs. The Language and Culture Institute is also part of Outreach and International Affairs.

Written by Sara Hendery