Thao Nguyen: Learning the language of microcontrollers

When she earned her associate degree in electrical and automation technology from Eastern Maine Community College (EMCC), Thao Nguyen, a native of Vietnam, had a number of career options available. With a nudge from her professors, she enrolled in the University of Maine’s Electrical Engineering Technology (EET) program. 

“I heard all good things about UMaine back when I was attending EMCC,” says Nguyen, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree from UMaine in May. “All my advisers and instructors recommended I continue my studies at UMaine. I took their suggestion and am so glad that I did. This was one of the best decisions of my life.”

At UMaine, Nguyen has also benefited from good advice, particularly from the Office of International Programs (OIP), and a favorite professor in the School of Engineering Technology, Jude Pearse. 

“OIP at UMaine always makes sure the students get the help they need,” says Nguyen, noting that she could always count on their support when challenges around living in the U.S. or studying at UMaine arose.  

For Nguyen, Pearse’s influence has extended far beyond the classroom. 

“I became close to her. She is a teacher, mentor, professor and a friend,” Nguyen says. “I can always go to her when I need advice in life, for school or work. She taught me, helped me, and always encouraged me to be better, and to do better.” 

OIP and Pearse are just two of the reasons Nguyen calls UMaine home. 

“UMaine is a supportive community where students get help in difficult times and are celebrated in happy times,” Nguyen says. 

Just like home. 

“Home is a place that no matter what is always there, and I can always go, a place that always welcomes me with open arms.” 

Not surprisingly, Nguyen’s favorite class at UMaine is one she took with Pearse, EET 174 — Introduction to Microcontrollers. That’s where she learned to communicate with microcontrollers. 

“We learned the basics and the programming language,” Nguyen says. “Now we are using the microcontroller as the brain for our senior project.”  

Nguyen and her classmates are applying those basic concepts learned with Pearse in their EET capstone course, to build an automated greenhouse control system using a sensor array and a mini-computer to regulate parameters such soil moisture, irrigation and temperature. The group will develop, install and demonstrate their system in a custom built greenhouse designed to maintain optimum growing conditions. 

Attending an engineering job fair at UMaine helped Nguyen plot her future path. She says that learning about the expectations for engineers encouraged her to work harder to achieve her goal — licensure as a professional engineer. 

She is confident that UMaine’s EET department is thorough and diligent in preparing students for successful careers in engineering. 

Asked what difference UMaine has made in her life, Nguyen notes her academic, social and professional growth.

“UMaine helped me find out who and where I want to be, and how to get there.”

Contact: Joan Perkins,