Khanh Vu, a manager at the FAA's William J. Hughes Technical Center, celebrated her 36th anniversary of moving to the United States on February 14. She and her family fled South Vietnam amidst gunfire as they raced for two small boats in the middle of the night. Their trip to Malaysia took seven days, and they had to barter jewelry for food and water along the way. Khanh and her family immigrated to the U.S., arriving on Valentine’s Day, where she was puzzled by all the heart-shaped foods and decorations since the holiday wasn’t celebrated in Vietnam.
Fast forward a few years, in the eighth grade, Khanh’s teacher asked her what she wanted to become, and she said an astronaut. Motion sickness, however, quickly eliminated that as a career option. Since math and science were her strengths, she opted to study aeronautical engineering. After two years at Wichita State University, she decided that wasn’t for her, and switched to electrical engineering. While in college, Khanh heard about the FAA Technical Center, which conducted research and testing in aviation, and that sounded like the perfect place for her. Khanh participated in a cooperative program at the Tech Center during her last two semesters of college, and was then offered a job with the FAA in 1991.
“The Tech Center is a wealth of projects and programs that involve engineering,” Khanh said. “I started out working with navigation and landing systems—everything from design review to accessing data and doing analysis, to evaluating system performance and writing reports.”
Now Acting Manager for Safety and Technical Training Standardization, Khanh manages the recruitment strategy and training development for AJI personnel. She also oversees the Quality Management System and organizational processes for AJI.
When asked what advice she would give to an engineering student, Khanh said, “to apply what you learned to what you want to do. My sister is an aeronautical engineer and works for Boeing. She started out in electrical engineering and she hated it. She likes aircraft design, and does more mechanical work—she focuses on how things run on the airplane. That was her passion and how she chose to use her degree.”
“When I talk to family members about what to study in college,” Khanh continued, “I think it is important to help them think about what job will make them happy. Otherwise, there is a disconnect and students often go back to school to get more degrees. If there isn’t a connection, you can become a professional student for a long time. I have a nephew who loves to play video games and he is really into knowing how the games work. I told him he’d probably be a great video game programmer. That gave him an area that he could hone in on for a degree to pursue in school.”