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Practical skills lead to third place win for international postgraduate student

  • Thanh An Le_Landscape

30 April 2024

International student Thanh An Le is nearing the end of his Master’s in Applied Technologies (Computing). With a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Technology in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Thanh says the best part of studying at Unitec is improving his skills beyond traditional lecture halls. Recently, he proved that by taking out third place at the Smart Sustainable Development (SSD) 2024 alongside Unitec’s Dr Masoud Shakiba and Dr Iman Ardekani.

There are lots of factors to consider when choosing a career path. Thanh An Le vividly remembers making that decision. At the time, the two most popular options in his home country of Vietnam were economics and technology. 

Ultimately, his family persuaded him to explore electrical engineering at the University of Technology in Ho Chi Minh City.

Fast-forward to today and Thanh isn’t far off completing his Master of Applied Technologies (Computing) at Unitec. 

“My brother and his family moved to New Zealand, and in 2022, I thought it would be a good opportunity to do postgraduate study in a new environment,” Thanh explains. 

So, he hopped on a plane – and hasn’t looked back since. 

Unitec a chance to “develop my practical skills”

Thanh says his learning experience at Unitec has been the complete opposite of studying in Vietnam – which is exactly what he was after. 

“At Unitec, I’ve had so many more chances to improve my practical skills. My study in Vietnam was mostly theoretical, but the lecturers at Unitec are always looking at creating opportunities for me to practice my coding or create an application.”

Taking home 3rd place at SSD 2024

One of those opportunities was working on a research project with Unitec senior lecturer Dr Shakiba and associate professor Dr Ardekani. Recently, that project won third place at the Smart Sustainable Development (SSD) – a ground-breaking virtual event held in February 2024 and attended by innovators from 13 countries. 

The conference and project showcase kicked off with an opening speech from Karim Dickie, President of the United Nations Association of New Zealand, followed by two keynote speakers. Then, the nine Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) projects that had been shortlisted were narrowed down to the top three – and Thanh’s team came third-equal. 

Their project, Sustainable Cyber-Physical Platform for Optimal Greenhouse Growth, developed an application that detects diseases in tomato plants using images. The point-and-shoot software is a game-changer because it’s easier to install and use than anything else in the market. 

“Our application doesn’t require farmers to build cloud servers – it’s accurate and lightweight enough for practical farming use – which helps reduce costs. We built it around tomato plants, but it can be applied to other plants, too.”

Unitec staff “very supportive”

Working alongside Dr Shakiba and Dr Ardekani was an invaluable and inspiring experience, says Thanh. But beyond that, the support from his professors and supervisors has given him the confidence to step out from behind a computer screen. 

“Three months ago, I was reading about a master’s scholarship. I thought I’d have no chance. I wouldn’t have applied if my professor hadn’t encouraged me and written me a letter of recommendation. In the end, I got the scholarship,” Thanh laughs. 

Thanh’s plans after graduation

Once he’s successfully completed his master’s, Thanh already has full-time work lined up. He’s looking forward to applying his skills in New Zealand’s workplace – and is on a mission to convince his friends to come study abroad. 

“Lots of my friends also study and work in technical fields, and I’ve told them they should come and study at Unitec. I think the practical, hands-on learning will suit them, like it did me.”


Learn more about Unitec’s postgraduate computing programmes.