Professor to Take Waste Management Technologies Course to Vietnam

By Sandy Hicks

UTEP News Service

A diverse background encompassing engineering degrees from Cornell University and the University of Michigan, a decades-long, globe-trotting career in civil engineering, a law degree, an adopted family in Asia, a cross-cultural love story and a teaching position at The University of Texas at El Paso: these attributes make Austin Marshall, J.D., uniquely qualified for an upcoming stint teaching a course at Hue University in Hue, Vietnam.

Marshall, a clinical professor of civil engineering at UTEP, recently was awarded a grant to teach a 14-week course in Waste Management Technologies to Vietnamese students. He will teach the first two weeks and the last two weeks in Vietnam. The 10 weeks in between will be taught via a live videoconference from UTEP.Austin Marshall, J.D.Austin Marshall, J.D.

The competitive grant is awarded through the Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF) and funded by the U.S. Department of State as part of an initiative to strengthen the U.S.-Vietnam relationship through educational exchanges in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. The grant provides the opportunity for Vietnamese and American students to trade cultural and educational experiences, and for U.S. faculty to teach in Vietnam.

The VEF created a teaching model based on past evaluations of areas of teaching in Vietnam that could benefit from new techniques being implemented. The model includes a curriculum in English and a more interactive style than Vietnamese students are used to. 

“Students in Vietnam are excited to be taking these engineering courses taught in English that will employ a more Socratic style,” Marshall said.

Marshall is no stranger to Vietnam – he knows and loves the culture and people personally and cultivated a moderate skill in the language. While working for Entropic Energy as a civil engineer, he spent years working on multiple projects in Vietnam. That’s a lot of hotel rooms and restaurant food, and Marshall longed for a more meaningful experience. After a little research, he found a quaint bed and breakfast – much to the disbelief of his Vietnamese guide who needed convincing that such a thing existed in his country. This is where Marshall came to know the real Vietnam.

He developed a warm friendship with his new ‘adopted’ family while staying at their B&B on every visit. He got to know them all – except one daughter who lived in America. On one trip back to the U.S., his hosts asked him to mail a package to their daughter for them. Marshall was surprised to discover the mailing address was literally just a few miles from his home near Ann Arbor, Mich. They met, and as the saying goes – the rest is history, and his former hosts became his in-laws.

Now Marshall is headed back to Vietnam to teach.

“I can’t wait to see how Vietnamese students react to a new teaching style” Marshall said. “And it’s a plus for UTEP when a grant like this is awarded to any department – it adds to UTEP’s reputation and prestige internationally.”

Marshall is looking forward to teaching in a country he is already so familiar with, and helping Vietnamese students adopt new ways to learn. The students he will be teaching are Vietnam’s future engineers who will one day be responsible for redesigning and rebuilding their country’s infrastructure. According to Marshall, Vietnam is very open to countries that will help them rebuild and improve their infrastructure, and the Waste Technologies course is designed to fit those educational needs.

Faculty and students in UTEP’s College of Engineering regularly conduct research in the areas of water quality, road improvement and the technology of waste management. Sharing research knowledge and course material with Vietnamese students through classes like Marshall’s is the whole point of the grant – and satisfies the Department of State’s desire to stimulate educational relationships between countries.

"The VEF U.S. Faculty Scholar Program grant that Dr. Marshall received will provide a venue for the development of a strong collaboration between the two institutions,” said Cesar Carrasco, Ph.D., chair of UTEP’s Department of Civil Engineering. “This collaboration will be driven by the initial Waste Management Technologies courses that he will be teaching, and we look forward to the extension of this program at UTEP to other disciplines."