This Incredible Journey Paved the Way for Thomas Doan’s Career

Meet a grid technician at Duke Energy’s Distribution Control Center in Charlotte, N.C.
Jun 17, 2024 8:15 AM ET

By Dennis Lockard | illumination Staff Writer

Thomas Doan is on a team that’s expanding Duke Energy’s smart-thinking grid, automated technology that helped avoid more than 1.5 million customer outages across six states in 2023.

He and other grid technicians also maintain devices that enable Duke Energy to restore power faster. By providing and maintaining remote connectivity to both substations and line equipment, they are able to reroute electricity from areas needing repairs or maintenance so line crews can work safely.

This is done from Duke Energy’s Distribution Control Center (DCC) in Charlotte, N.C., not far from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where Doan earned his degree in electrical engineering in 2016.

Doan credits his family’s experiences and influence as Vietnamese refugees for his success at Duke Energy – and in life.

“I wouldn’t be here,” Doan said, “without the difficult journey my family endured, let alone working for a company as great as Duke Energy.”

His family’s story begins after the fall of Saigon in April 1975, when North Vietnam captured the capital of South Vietnam. Fearing reprisal from the new communist government, millions of Vietnamese fled their country in the years that followed. Most refugees – the Doan’s included – escaped by boat.

Their incredible story represents a generation of people who overcame a perilous journey at sea in search of peace, freedom and safety.

A celebration of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders

We recognize these individuals as both enriching U.S. culture and being instrumental to its future success. It’s why Duke Energy joins organizations and communities across the country in May, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, to mark the contributions and influence of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

“An inclusive workplace makes us a stronger company, ” said Sharene Pierce, vice president and chief diversity & inclusion officer at Duke Energy. “A diverse workforce offers various backgrounds and perspectives, and allows us to be more innovative and mindful in how we create strategies and solutions to better serve our customers and communities.”

AAPI communities consist of approximately 50 distinct ethnic groups speaking over 100 languages, with connections to Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Hawaiian, and other Asian and Pacific Islander ancestries.

Journey of hope

Four years after the fall of Saigon, Doan’s parents, Lai Doan and Phuong Nguyen, saved enough money to leave Vietnam with his brother Thanh – then just a toddler. It was an arduous experience to say the least.

They attempted to leave by boat, but twice it never showed. Expenses from these multiple failed attempts kept the family in Vietnam for another year or so. By then, sister Nhu Hien had joined the family.

The Doan’s made the tough decision that there was only enough money for his father and brother to make the journey. This time, the boat arrived. After a treacherous nine-day trip to Thailand that included a pirate raid, they arrived at a refugee camp where they stayed for six months. This was followed by another six-month trip to Indonesia to learn English, with assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Doan’s brother and father finally made it to the United States in 1982, settling in Raleigh, N.C. It wasn’t until 1987, however, that Doan’s mother and sister were successful in leaving Vietnam; a boat took them to a Malaysian refugee camp. Finally, in 1989, the family was reunited in Raleigh.

Thomas Doan was born three years later.

“Being the American born in the family, I’ll never know firsthand what my parents went through,” he said. “My siblings tell me that they have no memory of it and frankly are probably better off that way.”

A ‘need to connect’

What Doan is certain of: his family’s story of endurance and determination serves him well in his current role as a grid technician at Duke Energy. Their perseverance also inspired him to “step out of his comfort zone” in 2020.

“I had this need to connect with others who may have been going through the same thing I was,” Doan said. “I wanted to learn more about my culture and traditions.

He knew Duke Energy had an Asian Inclusion Network (AIN) Employee Resource Group (ERG) in its Ohio/Kentucky region, where the company provides electricity to 910,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers. Doan joined AIN’s Cincinnati, Ohio, chapter but was disappointed that he couldn’t attend in-person events in his geographical location.

Eventually, he connected with Brad Platt on Duke Energy’s Diversity & Inclusion team to ask if there would ever be a Charlotte AIN chapter. Platt encouraged him to get one off the ground.

Doan accepted Platt’s challenge and began recruiting members. And he’s quick to point out the benefits he’s received from his work with the ERG.

“There’s opportunity for everyone to learn about challenges that specific groups face, as well as helping to understand the perspectives of others with our ERGs,” Doan said. “Specifically, I experienced firsthand AIN’s objective to provide educational and recruitment support to attract, retain, and engage Asian talent.

“I see diversity everywhere at Duke Energy. Here I know the only thing I’m being ‘judged’ for is my work ethic and contributions.”

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