Rita Ann Chao, class of 1969

Rita Ann Chao, class of 1969

Rita Ann Chao was born in Hanoi, Vietnam and raised in Saigon, to Chinese parents during the French Indochina War. When she and her twin sister were 16 years old, they came to Maine to live with an uncle and further their education. Chao graduated from Edward Little High School in Auburn, Maine in 1965 and then attended Pembroke College, the women’s college in Brown University, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics in 1969. She married Wilbur Hadden in 1969 and worked in Ithaca, New York, as a software developer while he pursued graduate school.

In this interview, Rita Ann Chao, class of 1969, discusses growing up in Vietnam, arriving in Maine, studying applied math at Brown University, and her career in software development, management consulting, and organization transformation. 

She begins by describing her experience growing up in Vietnam as a person of Chinese descent during the French Indochina War. She elaborates on her early schooling in the French education system in Saigon and her parents’ decision to send her and her twin sister to live with an uncle in the United States to further their education. Chao recalls difficulty getting used to Maine’s cold climate and subsequently having pneumonia during her first six months there. She also recalls struggling in school while she tried to become conversational in English and learn an entirely new education system. She then takes a moment to discuss the effects of the Vietnam War and the rise of China on her self-expression in the United States.

She briefly talks about how she discovered Pembroke College, the women’s college in Brown University, and decided to attend because of its coordinate relationship with Brown and because it was a smaller school in a smaller city. She also remembers various jobs she had to balance while taking courses in order to afford room and board.

Chao goes on to share the gender bias she faced in the workforce in addition to discussing positive and fulfilling employment opportunities. She explains how she was able to negotiate with her employer when she had children so that she could effectively work while parenting, and how her job expectations changed when her children were teenagers.

She closes her interview by detailing the work she did throughout her career and touching upon the volunteer work she does today, giving thanks to Brown for opening up opportunities she had along the way.

Recorded on Jul 23, 2019


Interviewed by Mary Murphy, Nancy L. Buc '65 Pembroke Center Archivist