Wei R. Chen - Acceptance Speech

Outstanding Master’s Universities and Colleges Professor of the Year
Wei R. Chen
Professor of Biomedical Engineering
University of Central Oklahoma

Thank you very much for your introduction, Thomas.

First, I would like to thank the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education for selecting me as the U.S. Professor of the Year in the category of Masters’ Universities and Colleges. I am deeply honored to receive this prestigious award. I know very well that there are many professors who are devoted to educating our students and who are more deserving than I. Therefore, I accept this award on behalf of all my fellow professors!

Today, we are facing crises in many areas. At the same time, we are also provided with unprecedented opportunities. In Chinese, “crisis” is composed of two characters: “danger” and “opportunity.” So we can say that today is “the worst of times and the best of times.”

We, as professionals in education, have heavy burdens on our shoulders because what we do not only affects today’s students, but it will have a long-lasting impact on society for many years to come. There is a Chinese proverb that says, “If you plan for one year, plant rice. If you plan for 10 years, plant trees. If you plan for 100 years, educate mankind.” I believe this best summarizes the importance of our profession.

To help students address the many challenges they face today—the conflicting interests, the lure of wealth and fame, and many other temptations—requires an innovative, multi-faceted approach in higher education, which combines all wisdom—old and new, eastern and western. The fast technological advancements and ever-increasing globalization provide us with opportunities for innovations in education.

During my professional career of more than 20 years, I have adopted a three-part, student-centered, transformative learning strategy, which is deeply rooted in the Chinese culture—a part of my ethnic heritage—and in the teaching philosophies of Confucius, who is revered as the teacher of all teachers in China.

The first is individual-based learning according to a student’s background, knowledge and skills, which is based on the philosophy of Confucius to “teach according to the student's ability.”

The second is an inquiry-based learning process. Confucius once said, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” Experiential learning is extremely effective and it has served my students and me well.

The third is an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and research since advancements in science and technology have broken down the boundaries of different fields. I have been actively involved in the development of the biomedical engineering program at my university and laser immunotherapy for cancer treatment. My students have benefited from these interdisciplinary education and research programs.

In addition, I convey to students that the learning process is as important as knowledge itself. I emphasize that college is the place to learn how to think and how to develop methods of approaching real-life problems. I teach them that the only constant in the real world is "change," and I often challenge them with open-ended questions that reflect real-world issues.

Service learning is important as well. I constantly stress that the purpose of learning is to serve people and contribute to society, not merely to enrich oneself. I challenge my students to save or change at least one person's life, for the better, in their career. My dream is to have my students come to me one day and tell me that they have done just that.

Looking at my two former students in the audience, I know I won’t have to wait long to see that dream fulfilled. Thomas will finish his MD/PhD program next year at Case Western Reserve University and is on his way to becoming a neurosurgeon. Amir is a first-year medical student at Howard University here in D.C.

They will do great things and change people’s lives. That is what motivates me and provides me with the energy in my everyday work.

In closing, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people who are very important in my life. First and foremost, I want to thank my wife, Chin. I truly appreciate her patience, caring, complete understanding and never-wavering support of my work—without which I would not be here today. I also want to thank my son, Jason, who is with us today, and my daughter, Vivian, who insisted on not missing classes and therefore is not here today. I want to thank them for their understanding, their tolerance, and their unconditional love for the father who is often absent, either in mind or body, or both.

I also would like to thank the leadership of the University of Central Oklahoma, President Roger Webb, Provost Bill Radke, and Vice Provost Pat LaGrow, for creating the research, teaching and service environment at UCO that I enjoy and in which I thrive. I would like to thank my nominator, Dean John Barthell, who I consider a dear colleague as well as a close friend. Also I want to express my appreciation to my department chair, Dr. Baha Jassemnejad, for his support. I also want to thank all the UCO colleagues and my close friends who are here today to show their support. I am very proud to know them and work with them.

I especially want to thank my current and former students. They are why I enjoy my work so much and why I am here today. This award is as much for them as for me. For that, I would like to again thank Carnegie and CASE.

Thank you very much.