To celebrate 50 years of coeducation at Kenyon, we’re profiling 50 Kenyon alumnae during the 2019-20 academic year. These 50 women, merely a small sample of the thousands of female graduates who have earned Kenyon degrees since 1969, will discuss their undergraduate experiences and how their education in Gambier prepared them for their lives and careers.
The fourth alumna in our series is Bi Vuong ’03, managing director at Project Evident, which helps organizations harness the power of evidence to prove that their programs make a difference in people’s lives and thus achieve greater impact. Previously, Vuong was director of the Proving Ground program at Harvard University’s Center for Educational Policy Research. Vuong was a political science major at Kenyon and earned a master’s degree in public affairs at Princeton University.
How do you prioritize your life and get things done?
In my professional life, the question I have tried to use to guide my career decisions is: “Where can I have the biggest impact?” In terms of specific jobs or opportunities the answer hasn’t always been clear-cut, but having now worked in the private, nonprofit and governmental sectors I still believe that my general determination to work toward improving education outcomes for students was the right one for me.
Where did you first discover your power?
I’m not sure that I discovered my “power” so much as I came to understand it better over time as rooted in the example offered by my parents, who were refugees who fled Vietnam in 1979 and settled in America in 1981. They spoke no English and had very little education, but worked extremely long hours, accepted whatever work they could get and managed to raise nine children. So, if anything, my “power” is grounded in an appreciation and respect for hard work of all kinds and in a determination to make the most of the opportunities I have been given.
Who at Kenyon inspired you?
There are many individuals at Kenyon who inspired me for many different reasons. Two that stand out are Professors [of Political Science] Fred Baumann and Pamela Camerra-Rowe. Professor Baumann taught me to rigorously and critically question my ideas and convictions and to always be open minded enough to change them. I re-learn the value of this lesson every day.
Professor Camerra-Rowe inspired me to demand more of myself with the high expectations she set for her students and with the detail and attention she brought to her teaching. As I’ve gotten older, and sometimes without realizing it, I find myself applying so many of the habits Professor Camerra-Rowe instilled because that is how I know I am giving my best to my colleagues and clients.
What's the best advice you’ve ever received?
Trust your style. In my early 20s, I received some feedback from a supervisor who suggested that I may have been a bit too forthright and direct in my manner of speaking and in my interactions with colleagues. The supervisor suggested I be more circumspect. I mentioned this to my husband over coffee. He immediately waved his hand, told me it was bad advice and encouraged me to, as he put it, “trust my style.” It was kind of a throw-away line, but this advice has, to this day, served me well.
How has your worldview evolved since leaving Kenyon?
At Kenyon, I was encouraged to engage with “big” ideas — justice, heroism, empathy, democracy (to name a few) — all of which continue to influence my thinking. Having spent most of my career working in the education sector interacting with students, teachers, principals and administrators, I have come to witness, and better understand, how “big” ideas are reflected in the everyday interactions and decisions that shape the lives of individuals and communities. For me, what can seem like a “little” idea can be a “big” idea if it improves a student’s experience or provides a student with new opportunities.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Read about the previous woman in our series: Hope Harrod ’98.
Read about the next woman in our series: Jan Guifarro ’73.