Stennis Space Center, Miss.
May 5, 2004
Engineer's Long Journey To NASA Began Escaping From Vietnam
As a NASA safety engineer, Peter Ve Tran spends nearly every day working to ensure a safe, secure work environment, a sharp contrast to the danger-filled escape that brought him to the United States. Tran is a Program Manager and member of the Pressure Vessel Program committee at NASA's Stennis Space Center (SSC) near Bay St. Louis, Miss.
Tran remembers well the frightening struggle to leave war-torn Vietnam. His journey began in 1975, when at the age of 13, he escaped from Vietnam aboard his father's shrimp boat. "I was studying to become a priest when North Vietnam took over the South," Tran said. "We had to escape, and wherever my family goes, I go," he added.
After venturing into the Pacific Ocean with no set destination, the family of seven was picked up by an American Navy ship. The crew transferred them to a nearby island, the first stop in a series of destinations before reaching the United States. After living briefly in Arkansas and Missouri, the family settled in Louisiana in 1976, drawn to the strong Vietnamese community in New Orleans.
"My parents cannot speak English," Tran said. "Until we moved to New Orleans, this made it difficult for them to earn a living in the United States. When we came to the United States, it took me several years to learn English well and adapt to American culture," Tran said.
After graduating from John Ehret High School in Marrero, La., Tran entered Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. He struggled with language barriers and the challenges of earning tuition money. Therefore, after his sophomore year he entered the workforce, but continued attending school part time.
Tran graduated in 1992 with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of South Alabama in Mobile. He then taught Asian students with language difficulty and culture communications problems in Mobile county public schools, while pursuing his master's degree at night. The position enabled Tran to share not only his scientific expertise, but also his life experiences with students whose backgrounds were similar to his.
"There were a lot of Vietnamese students," he said. "Because I had been down their road, I was able to help them understand differences in our language and culture," Tran added.
The teaching position led to an engineering job with a commute that had Tran driving by SSC nearly daily. "Every time I passed Stennis, it reminded me of my dream, to work at NASA," Tran said.
In 1996, Lockheed Martin Stennis Operations hired Tran as an engineer. Five years later, NASA offered Tran a civil servant position as a safety engineer. Tran helps ensure all contractor and civil servant employees meet guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.
Now a U.S. citizen and the father of two, Tran still has relatives in Vietnam, and he looks forward to visiting them soon. He plans to show his own children the places where he grew up. "It is very painful to see the struggles of that country," he said. "But I still want to take my family to visit," he added.
Media organizations interested in interviewing Tran should contact Rebecca Strecker at the SSC Public Affairs Office at: 228/688-3341.
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