Dr. Ada Woo is the first to admit that her 7,500-mile journey from China to middle America is anything but ordinary. Growing up in Hong Kong, she came to the United States as a high school student, went to college in Alabama and got her Ph.D. in Texas. After completing her doctorate, she gravitated toward work that led her to Washington, D.C., and then Chicago. Always looking for the next challenge and motivated to grow her career in technology and education, she traded big city living for Iowa and wouldn’t have it any other way.
How did get she end up in the heartland? “In 2016, I attended a testing industry conference in Lisbon, Portugal, and heard ACT CEO Marten Roorda speak about his vision for the future of education,” said Dr. Woo. “It was original, bold and inspirational. Shortly after, I started following ACT’s work, specifically its innovation and R&D unit, ACTNext.” Later, when she was approached about joining ACTNext as its chief of staff, she knew she had a difficult decision to make.
In her mind, there was only one issue — leaving behind all that large metropolitan cities had to offer. Fortunately, her husband was familiar with Iowa and helped alleviate her concerns. “My husband is a physician and at the time had been traveling to work on contract in Cedar Rapids,” she said. “He was familiar with the area near the job I was presented with, told me about the great universities, technology and people, and really encouraged us to relocate.”
In the end, the chance to join ACTNext was just too good for her to pass up. “ACT is a very unique company; although it is firmly established and wields a great deal of influence in the testing community, it is also transforming and incorporating new goals to help learners everywhere succeed,” she said. “When it comes down to it, I’m passionate about education, because I know firsthand the opportunities it creates. ACT is evolving in new and exciting ways to incorporate learning and academic/career navigation, all focused on the success of the people we serve. I knew I had to be a part of this transformational moment.”
After moving to Iowa, Dr. Woo was appointed to the Iowa Innovation Council where she works to enhance the economic potential of educational technology (EdTech), software designed to enhance teacher-led learning in classrooms and improve students' education, for the state. It’s one of several committees she volunteers on to promote EdTech. These professional and social networks are more reasons why Dr. Woo will tell you that she has no regrets about her decision to relocate.
“Coming here was one of the best decisions my husband and I have ever made — personally and professionally,” she said. “My work is incredibly rewarding, and we are doing ground-breaking research and developing technologies that will transform the education experience. Most people will tell you that if they are willing to pick up and move, they are going to get better opportunities in the new place. That has definitely been the case for us.”
Dr. Woo added that she’s been surprised to meet so many other professionals who arrived like she did — unsure but unafraid of seeking out what the Silicon Prairie had to offer. “It is a cliché, but the people are so nice and so welcoming. We’ve been embraced by friends and colleagues, all deeply invested in each other, our communities, our professions, and being a part of something truly rare,” she said. “Before we moved, we’d heard that you could grow nearly anything in Iowa. We had no idea it would be us."