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Hoang Bui MPP 2019

BORN IN VIETNAM, Hoang Bui MPP 2019 came to the United States with his family as a nine-month-old. In about a year and a half, he will leave for Ghana in his first overseas assignment as a global health foreign service officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), beginning a career he hopes will help safeguard the world’s most vulnerable populations and also his country’s security.

Bui recalls the moment that, perhaps more than any other, set him on his path. He was in middle school. “I was pulled out of class, and my sister was on the phone,” he says. “She said that our mom had been in an industrial accident.” With the loss of his mother’s livelihood, Bui and his family found themselves living below the poverty line. He saw education as his best way forward. “Originally I wanted to be a ‘good immigrant son,’ become a doctor, and make my entire family proud,” Bui says. That plan changed when he discovered that—along with an interest in public health—he had an affinity for languages, which led him to Taiwan, and later Thailand, aided by two National Security Education Program Boren Awards.

“By understanding how to use stories, you can make the data come alive and move people.”

Hoang Bui MPP 2019

Before coming to the Kennedy School as a USAID Donald M. Payne International Development Fellow, Bui worked as a public health advocate in Minnesota, his home state. “Most people don’t know this, but in Minnesota we have about 200,000 Asian Pacific Islanders (APIs), either U.S. citizens or new immigrants,” he says. “In this community, sex is a taboo topic, so sexually transmitted infections go unseen, and HIV incidence rates for APIs in the United States were increasing faster than for other racial groups.” Bui did fieldwork and collected data on sexual health in the API community, but he wasn’t sure how to convey that data effectively to influence policy. 

That’s where the Kennedy School came in. As an MPP student, Bui learned to analyze and communicate the data’s implications. “Data and numbers by themselves do not necessarily motivate people,” he says. “So by understanding how to use stories, you can make the data come alive and move people. That is one of the most powerful lessons I took away from my Kennedy School experience.”

Another powerful lesson came from Nicholas Burns, the Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations at the Kennedy School and a career foreign service officer. Burns taught Bui about the good that diplomats can do in the world. A career as a global health foreign service officer will allow Bui to make the biggest possible difference using his skills.

According to Bui, “Global health is an indirect way, and in my opinion the most important way, to help countries develop and to strengthen U.S. national security.”

Photo by Natalie Montaner