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Getting down to business with the best

Carroll senior from Vietnam among nation's elite

Feb. 21, 2012

Like any new college student, it took some time for Minh Vu to adjust when he came to Carroll University in 2008.

But for Vu, who was coming to America for the first time from Hanoi, Vietnam, it might have taken him a little longer than others. His English was substandard. He had to adjust to living in a foreign environment. And he had to learn how to live in an area with much colder temperatures than Hanoi would ever see as well as the occasional snowstorm.

Snow, however, was no problem for Vu. In fact, he said he actually misses all the Wisconsin snow that he is accustomed to seeing by now.

"I love it," Vu said as snow began to fall from his suite-style apartment at Carroll a couple weeks ago. "My freshman year was the first time I saw snow and I just loved it."

Still, there were challenges. But there was always a constant from the time he arrived in Waukesha: His willingness to adapt, his drive to succeed and his passion for academics.

"I've always been dedicated and that has helped me have good performances," Vu, 21, said. "I try my best and sometimes I have to make sacrifices."

A near perfect student

Whatever he's done, it sure has worked out. That's because after scoring a perfect 800 on the math portion of his SAT while in high school, the senior has not disappointed at the collegiate level.

As a business finance major, Vu took the Business Policy capstone course last semester and at the end of the term, his class participated in the national Educational Testing Service Major Field Test. The test, which is an indicator of how an individual ranks nationally and of the strength of an institution's academic program, contains 120 multiple-choice questions and is designed to measure a student's knowledge and ability to apply facts, theories and analytical methods.

Carroll's class average was 157.8 points out of the possible 200, placing it in the 82nd percentile for all schools nationwide. Much of this success, however, can be traced to Vu's score of 189. That mark put him in some elite company as it placed Vu in the top one percent nationally for all students who took the test.

Tired but confident

"I was quite confident I would score well and thought my performance would be somewhere in the top half," Vu said. "But I never expected to be in the (top) one percentile of the nation, so I was surprised. I attribute some of it to being lucky."

Or it can be attributed to simply being a hard worker. That's how his professor sees it.

"It stemmed from his work ethic during the class," said Gregory Schultz, Vu's instructor last semester. "I could see it coming. I wasn't surprised it was that high, but it is still remarkable when you see it.

"He's very detailed oriented and, unlike some college kids who just want to memorize things, he wants to regurgitate information and internalize things."

The test included everything Vu has learned in the business field throughout his four years at Carroll.

"I spent all weekend digging through books, notes, summaries and powerpoints from all my business classes," Vu said. "I didn't remember all the material initially, but it all came back to me very quickly."

And with other classes taking a lot of his time at the end of the semester, he was forced to almost pull a couple all-nighters.

"I only slept about three or four hours each night," Vu admitted. "I would not recommend that to other people. I don't do that on a daily basis."

If he was sleep deprived, he didn't show it. He put all that knowledge to good use - even if it took him some time.

"I was the last one to finish the test," Vu said. "Usually that's the case. It's better to spend the entire time to make sure I had everything right."

A family of scholars

Both of Vu's parents have advanced degrees - his mother earned one from a college in England, while his father earned one from a university in Japan.

"My parents have pretty high standards when it comes to academics," Vu said. "I feel a little pressure but can't worry about it."

Vu's mother left Vietnam when he was 3 years old to pursue a degree, while his father ventured to Japan when Vu was 6 and didn't return until six years later.

The fact that he has been separated from his family at various times in his life made the transition to Carroll a little easier, but it still was initially tough being away.

"Some aspects I really miss," Vu said. "But generally, I love the idea of living by myself. Still, I miss my parents and two brothers."

Vu said he hardly knew anything about American colleges, but his interest sparked when Carroll's Director of International Education Kathy Hammett traveled to his high school in Vietnam to promote the school. That initial meeting made Vu want to apply to the university. But when Carroll's President Douglas Hastad traveled to Vu's school later that year, his mind was made up.

"It was a very affordable opportunity and I always wanted to come to America," Vu said. "There's a vast university system in America and I wanted that experience. But before coming, I had no idea about what America would be like."

Learning with newspapers

He was coming off that perfect SAT score, but he did have deficiencies elsewhere. One was writing and speaking English - a subject that could be daunting for a person who has never been in this country before. While he had taken some English classes as part of the curriculum growing up in Vietnam, there were some learning curves.

"When I was a freshman, I was in a writing course and English was a really big challenge for me, because my English was horrible and nothing like it is today," Vu said. "I got a 'B' in the class and it was my first and only in college. It was a tough class."

But in order to better himself and to continually improve in school, Vu did what he does before a big test. He worked hard to master it.

"In my first three months on campus, I forced myself to read as many newspapers as possible and talk in only English," Vu said. "I only e-mailed my family and never called them.

"That helped significantly. The first three months at Carroll I gained more than I did in 10 years in Vietnam."

His English improved dramatically, but one other subject was also a new experience. Vu's first semester was when the 2008 presidential election was taking place between Barack Obama and John McCain. And he just happened to be enrolled in an American politics class.

"I had no idea about American politics and during the election people were just shouting and shouting," said Vu, who will graduate with a minor in global studies. "I was saying to myself, 'I have no idea what is going on.' But it was so interesting. There were some very heated discussions."

After four years, Vu said it's tough to compare educations in Vietnam and America, but did point out one aspect.

"The system here is a more well-rounded one than in Vietnam," Vu said. "In Vietnam it's concentrated on one-side and focused so much on academics and America focuses on academics and other activities."

Getting involved on campus

While Vu, who graduates in May with a 3.87 GPA, spends considerable time on his studies, he has also gotten involved in other campus activities. He works at Carroll's Career Center reviewing résumés and cover letters.

He's also balancing an internship at Enterforce, a company in the managed service provider industry, in Waukesha where he worked 40 hours a week during the summer and another 10-15 during the school year. He loved the dorm life as he learned to play poker and joined the school's Outdoor Adventure Club.

"I was very afraid of heights and during one winter I went with the club to Michigan and I tried to go skiing with all the hard-core skiers," Vu said. "There was a sign that said no amateurs allowed, but we lied and they took me up the mountain. I was totally scared, but I survived."

He also got a chance at Carroll, in between all his intense business classes, to take an enjoyable course.

"I took the History of Rock Music," Vu said. "Before I came to America, I always loved American rock music."

Vu is now looking forward to life after graduation - wherever that might take him. But just like his test scores, he's thinking big.

"I've been looking mostly in East Asia like Singapore, Hong Kong as well as in the U.S. and Australia," Vu said. "I just want to enter the field right away and would love to join a big firm and work for high profile clients."

Whatever he does, Schultz knows one thing: Vu will thrive just as he did on that test.

"He's very inquisitive and he wants to go above and beyond to understand how applications work and that's very refreshing," Schultz said. "I know that wherever he goes or whatever he does, he's going to be very successful."

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