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News | May 11, 2021

Representation matters: Bringing Asian American experiences to the IC

By DIA Public Affairs

 As part of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Van Hendrey, program manager of DIA’s Machine-assisted Analytic Rapid-repository System, discusses her experience as an Asian American woman in the Intelligence Community.

 Q: As an Asian American woman, what attracted you to the Intelligence Community?

 A: It was definitely the diversity at all levels of leadership across the IC. Not just things like gender or ethnicity, but the breadth of diverse backgrounds and expertise of those leaders. While we still have work to do, I am encouraged by the path we are on to build a more inclusive team, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

  Q: How does your heritage inform your work as an IC professional?

 A: I came to the United States when I was nearly five, following a path not uncommon for Vietnamese Americans after the fall of South Vietnam. My family fled on a crowded fishing boat and spent nearly a year in squalid refugee camps before being permitted into America.

 My parents were nursing professionals in Vietnam but had to start over here, working multiple jobs to make ends meet — and with a singular focus to provide a better life for our family. They taught me a lot about hard work, but also about service to others, using what precious free time they had helping other immigrants. 

 As a result, I’ve always been driven throughout my career to see opportunities where others may see challenges, and to serve both the mission and the people. The opportunity to join the MARS team and contribute to a digital transformation with such a foundational impact across the Defense Department and IC was too good to pass up.

 Q: How do you make the IC better as an Asian American woman? 

 A: I hope to contribute both through representation in the leadership ranks and by leading with empathy — achieving outcomes by taking care of people. While everyone’s lived experiences are different, I bring my own experiences every day as an immigrant, a minority, a mom with school-aged kids, and a woman in male-dominated environments to help me better connect with and understand the perspectives of those I work with.

 With the rise of aggression and violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, it is also important for all of us to stand against hate and discrimination wherever it occurs. Our AAPI teammates across the IC are vital to our strategic advantage as a Nation, and it takes all of us to push back on intolerance and xenophobia wherever we see it. 

 Q: Is there a quote or motto that inspires you?

 A: “Do meaningful work with good people, everything else will take care of itself.” This was advice I received when I joined the Federal Government and it has served me well. Those words have helped me avoid the stress and pressure that often come with thinking about what to do next in a career and kept me open to amazing opportunities like MARS.