Growing up in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Tran learned to love business at an early age, thanks to her big family. She chose to come to Iowa State after doing an Internet search for the best business schools in the United States. The College of Business topped the lists, and thanks to affordable tuition, Tran left her home country for the first time and moved around the world to study business.
“After growing up in such a big city, I wanted to go somewhere different and chose a quiet, small town like Ames,” Tran said. “Ames has a lot of international students, so I was able to connect with the ISU Vietnam student group and saw pictures of how beautiful campus looked. I wanted to be a pioneer in my family. I’m the first one to even attend college, let alone study abroad.”
For her, business is more than a career, it’s personal. “The College of Business and Iowa State were appealing to me because they have a diverse population and a people- and family-oriented culture.”
Tran’s parents were her inspiration for business. She grew up around the family’s fabric company and watched them work with customers. They taught her to emphasize it’s not always about the numbers, but the people.
“Back then, our business was very small and we didn’t have a real store, so we stored our fabric in the house. I learned a lot about supply chain and working with customers.”
Tran wanted to expand her business knowledge by studying finance. She quickly became involved at the College of Business. After researching clubs and student organizations, Tran decided to join the Global Business Club and Investment Group. Through Investment Group, she invested in stocks, networked with employers, and was chosen to attend the University Private Equity Summit in Utah as a sophomore.
“I was elected vice president of Global Business Club my sophomore year and president when I was a junior,” Tran said. “My main goal was to expand the club and make it better-known to employers of multinational companies. I looked for companies that were strong in certain areas and invited them to speak to our club members about how they expand overseas into emerging markets.”
Melody Schobert, adviser for the Global Business Club, said Tran’s leadership of the club increased membership and fostered leadership skills in others. “As president, her enthusiastic and positive attitude put others at ease,” Schobert said. “She demonstrates an outstanding work ethic as a dedicated professional who honors her commitments and strives for the best in all she does.”
Getting involved early at Iowa State helped Tran land her first internship at IDG Ventures, a venture capital firm with startup funds all over the world, during her sophomore year. Starting the internship hunt early was important to Tran, whose search tactics were unique. “I contacted the CFO of their Vietnam fund through LinkedIn to ask about internships,” Tran said. “I told him I didn’t have a lot of experience, but I was willing to learn and would add value to his company.”
Tran was offered the internship and left Iowa for Vietnam. Working in a fast-paced environment and meeting young entrepreneurs was exciting. Every day was a little different.
“I wanted my first internship to be a test of whether I could add value to a company and learn about the business environment in Vietnam,” Tran said. “One big question all international students face is whether they want to work in the United States or return to their home countries after graduation. Many feel going back home limits their opportunities to apply the knowledge they’ve learned here. But I learned through my first internship there are good opportunities everywhere I go.”
Tran landed her second internship the following year at Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where she worked in their corporate treasury department at the aerospace software corporation. She liked how the company values of emphasizing honesty and family lined up with her own beliefs. The company culture felt like a family to her.
While Tran was able to experience multiple internships through the College of Business, she said some international students may not have the confidence to pursue them. Tran knows how important it is to be confident in her skills as an international student. “Think of yourself as a valuable asset to a company,” Tran said. “It might be intimidating, but show employers you’re multilingual, adaptable, and teachable.”
Confidence in her field didn’t come naturally to Tran. As an introvert, she had to work hard at feeling comfortable with public speaking and meeting new people. “It can be a struggle for women to enter a male-dominated field like business,” she said. “The advice I had to live by was to ‘fake it ‘til you make it.’ The more you keep practicing and exposing yourself to the things that intimidate you, the more confident you’ll become.”
Tran believes finding a mentor, whether an older student, a professor, or a family member to model yourself after will help with personal and professional growth. Not only that, but Tran believes her success came from the people she was surrounded by. “There’s the saying, ‘tell me about your best friends and I’ll tell you about the kind of person you are.’ Hang out with people who are like-minded and driven. They’ll make you want to always keep being better.”
Tran is glad she took her own advice and got involved at Iowa State. “It’s a big decision to leave your home and study in a different country,” she said. Starting early made all the difference. As for her future, it’s pretty bright. Tran accepted a full-time offer to return to Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids after graduating in May 2017. Her family came to watch her accept her diploma.
– by Amy Griffith (’17 JLMC), a freelance writer from Ames