MinhHa Pham

A Force for Leadership

Attracting top scholars to the Carlson School provides businesses with the highest-caliber professionals ready to step in and apply their skills and knowledge to the challenges of today and of the future.

The Carlson MBA changed my life and I wouldn’t have had that experience without a scholarship,” says MinhHa Pham, ’11 MBA. “I got to work at some of the most prestigious companies in the world and I became a ‘global citizen’—living and working in different countries across four continents.”

Now living in San Francisco, it was only eight years ago that she was still in her home country of Vietnam making $350 per month. “In a country where GDP per capita was around only $1,000, that was considered a good-paying job,” she says. “My parents, who grew up in the war and then lived through a central-planned economy, didn’t have much savings. Traveling abroad was a huge deal for any of us back then, not to mention to study for an MBA in America.”

That was her dream. Pham knew she wasn’t going to achieve it without some assistance somewhere, so she set her sights on trying to obtain a scholarship of some kind. It took her more than two years to prepare.

The first major item she needed to work on was her English skills. “In Vietnam, back then and even today, English is not commonly used and well taught at schools,” she says. To prepare, she studied the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) intensively for eight months.

The second thing she needed to do was to become proficient at writing application essays. It took Pham nearly 50 drafts to get an application she was satisfied enough with to submit. “A few months later, I got an admission and scholarship letter from Carlson,” she says. “I remember holding that letter in my hand and I just couldn’t be happier.”

Pham was awarded a full tuition scholarship for the Full-Time MBA program. After graduation, she started working as a product manager at Johnson & Johnson under a global leadership program. This program allowed her to work at J&J headquarters in New Jersey for a year and then to move back to Vietnam to manage two medical device product lines. After nearly four years at J&J, she joined Google. Her job there is to help advertisers develop a digital marketing strategy and optimize advertising campaigns using Google products.

As her MBA has broadened her career opportunities, it has also broadened her life in other ways. “I have met amazing people from many countries,” she says. “Including my husband, who is also a University of Minnesota alum. We met at a comedy show in Hong Kong three years ago and it was the Minnesota connection that brought us together.”

What was Pham doing at that comedy show? Well, she also performs stand-up comedy on the side.

“I have performed at seven cities across five countries to audiences of up to 300 people,” she says. “Without the degree in America, I wouldn’t have thought of being able to make jokes in English to strangers.”

Although Pham is now halfway across the continent on the coast, she continues to be a volunteer MBA coach, a role she took on ever since she was admitted to the Carlson School.

“I have helped five people successfully get admission and scholarships to study in America and they have also helped others in a ‘pay it forward’ spirit,” she says. “I deeply believe in education as the most sustainable investment for an individual. One of my dreams is to open a school and a scholarship fund in Vietnam to send students in poor communities to college and to teach them English. I believe they will be critical factors in changing their communities for the better.” Since Pham has made her MBA dream come true, there’s no reason to think this one will be any different.

Visit the Carlson School Driven website for more information about the campaign. You can also read more about the Driven Campaign in the Carlson School Fall 2017 Alumni Magazine.