BackSociety » Meet Le Duy Loan, the First and Only Female Senior Fellow at Texas Instruments in 87 Years

When Le Duy Loan fled to the US in 1975, she was still a shy and demure girl from Nha Trang who barely knew any English. Today, Loan belongs to the top rung in her field of engineering and remains the only woman with the title of Senior Fellow at the renowned US-based semiconductor company Texas Instruments.

Earlier this May, the US’ Asian Hall of Fame decided to honor Le Duy Loan for her contribution to inspiring the next generation and building the local community of Asia-Pacific Americans. Three other individuals were also honored at the time.

Loan arrived in Houston, Texas when she was just 12 years old. She enrolled in Alief Hastings High School and had to study with kids two years her junior since her English was poor. However, she eventually graduated when she was 16 – two years earlier than her classmates. Loan was also the valedictorian of her class of 335 students.

Loan with her teacher in Vietnam. Photo via Kenh14.

Despite her circumstances, the Nha Trang native went on to enroll at the University of Texas at Austin. In 1982, Loan graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering (magna cum laude) at 19. Upon finishing her undergraduate program, Loan started her first job at Texas Instruments (TI) as a memory design engineer.

Her career at the tech company took off swiftly: she was elected a Member of Technical Staff in 1990; Senior Member of Technical Staff in 1993; Distinguished Member of Technical Staff in 1997 – the first woman to obtain the honor; and, TI Fellow in 1999. She also got her MBA during her time at TI.

Most recently, Loan became a TI Senior Fellow in 2002 and was the first Asian-American, as well as the first woman, to earn the title in the company’s 87-year history. Currently, there are only five senior fellows in the global TI network: Loan and four other men.

Loan at the ceremony where she received her title as TI Senior Fellow. Photo via Kenh14.

She married her husband, Tuan Dao, right when she finished college. Eleven years later, the couple welcomed their first child, Dan Dao, in 1993. Their second son, Don Dao, was born four years later, in 1997. Loan and Tuan made the decision to give the boys names that would sound the same in both English and Vietnamese.

Of this decision, Loan explained in a personal profile she wrote for Women in Technology International (WITI): “We did this as a symbolic reminder that each of them would be raised both as a Vietnamese and an American in ONE heart and ONE body, a task that would often exhaust us physically, emotionally and mentally for years to come ... but a challenge well worth taking on!”

Loan with her husband, Tuan Dao, on their wedding day. Photo via Kenh14.

In 1998, Loan was faced with a life-changing decision. TI was selling the entire Memory Division, thus she had to choose to either follow the new buyer or start her career from scratch. However, the choice was obvious to Loan.

“Moving the family out of Houston would mean my children would grow up not living and breathing the meaning of extended family and friends, one of the core values of their Vietnamese heritage and something that I never had a chance to experience as a child,” she wrote in the WITI profile. “I chose to give up title, stock options, a career I had invested 16 years and started all over so my sons could have what I never did as a child. To decide otherwise would be to give up one of my core principles.”

Loan was just starting to look for another job by interviewing with a few companies when TI caught wind of it and offered her a position on its Digital Signal Processing team. Despite her lack of knowledge of the new field, Loan gave herself five years to study up and quickly established her standing in the technical community in the new division.

Le Duy Loan graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1982. Photo via Kenh14.

Apart from her position as a top-rung expert in her field, Loan is also an active philanthropist: along with her husband and some friends, she founded Sunflower Mission (SM), a charity, in 2002. SM’s goal is to raise US$1 million over 10 years to construct 100 classrooms and provide 10,000 scholarships for children from Vietnam’s poorest regions.

As of 2015, Loan’s organization had finished 144 classrooms and given out some 15,000 scholarships while keeping operating costs low.

“I am very passionate about the belief that a person's ultimate legacy is the difference that person makes in other people's lives. In other words, one's success is less about [one’s] own accomplishment and more about how one enables others to accomplish,” she wrote in the WITI profile.

“As a result, I believe strongly in the value of building future leaders with principles, promoting civic leadership and instilling in people a “can do attitude.’”

Loan with the students at one of the schools that SM helped build. Photo via Kenh14.

Le Duy Loan is also a sterling public speaker and has given speeches all over the US. She also holds a black belt in taekwondo.

[Top photo via SMU]

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