If you ask international student Dieu Anh Hoang what aspect of her undergraduate degree had the biggest impact on her, she’ll tell you it wasn’t the pandemic, it wasn’t her co-op terms and it wasn’t even earning her BFA in Visual Arts with honours: it was actually a teacher’s advice about living with fear.

“At the start of my second-year sculpture class, my professor told me, ‘If you’re not scared, you’re not in the right place’—and that stuck with me,” she says. “It changed my attitude completely: I was scared of that professor and wanted to drop the class, but I realized it was good for me to accept the challenge and step out of my comfort zone. Now, I just tell myself ‘I can do this’ and I don’t think there’s anything I wouldn’t be able to do.”

Learning by doing

That “no-fear” attitude perfectly sums up Hoang on the cusp of graduating: in addition to her academic and artistic accomplishments, her workstudy positions with the Faculty of Fine Arts and her leadership as chair of the Visual Arts Student Association, she also stepped up as the architectural lead for UVic’s Seismic Design Team and as a Community + Engage Leader, representing both the faculty and her department.

“I like to put myself in a working environment and take charge of whatever I can,” says Hoang on a Zoom call from her family home in Hanoi, Vietnam. “That’s how I learn: leadership skills, communication skills, managing skills . . . I actually put my studies at the bottom of my priority list, as it was always the least of what I was doing.”

Hoang wasn’t even phased by the pandemic. “I was really lucky,” she admits. “I did my co-op terms online working with UVic’s Learning and Teaching Support and Innovation, and my classes were among the few held in-person during the pandemic. And my family managed okay in Vietnam, too, so I didn’t have to worry about that. It was actually pretty good for me!”

Hoang shows her work to CHEK TV

Behind the scenes

Describing herself as a visual designer (“I like to solve problems within any existing design to make it better and more accessible for everyone”), it was an interest in art and architecture that drew her to UVic after completing the International Baccalaureate Diploma in Abbotsfordbut it was her online abilities that probably had the biggest impact on campus life: her three co-op terms with LTSI saw her managing the transition from CourseSpaces to Brightspace.

“I was there the entire time migrating the platforms during the pandemic, facilitating the Zoom workshops for faculty and students,” she says. As well as organizing training sessions, she also created helpful infographics and content for the campus community. “It was great problem-solving!”

Skills beyond degree

As for her art practice, Hoang has a clear preference towards geometric and design imagery—whether that’s an exploded cube-based wall sculpture or culture-jamming a bag of groceries as a commentary on consumerism and food fads. (“Do people actually read the labels on what they’re eating?”)

Looking into the future, she can see herself working at a design agency in Seattle’s tech hub (“It’s very fast-paced and competitive there—I like that environment”) and possibly earning a Master’s in computer science.

In addition to having learned the positive side of fear itself, Hoang feels one of her biggest degree takeaways is her enhanced people skills. “Knowing how to work with people, learning how to focus on their strengths rather than their weaknesses . . . those are skills I can apply anywhere.”