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.