Wei R. Chen - Passion for Teaching Statement

I have always considered teaching to be the noblest of all professions. My own interest grew out of admiration and respect for my teachers, and I’m often reminded that Confucius, the most admired and respected historical figure in China, was revered as the teacher of all teachers.

The salient feature of Confucius' teaching was reflected in his philosophy to “teach according to the student's ability.” I have been guided by his wisdom throughout my career, and it is reflected in the three-part, student-centered teaching strategy I have adopted over the years.

The first part is individual-based learning according to a student’s background, knowledge and skills. Some of my undergraduate students are ready to design their own projects and pursue independent experiments, even reporting their outcomes in refereed publications. In other cases, I work with students every step of the way to help them master basic laboratory skills. I also serve as a mentor and adviser for students in independent studies, internships and summer projects.

The second part applies an inquiry-based learning process that incorporates experiential learning. Confucius once said, "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." Indeed, in almost every class, I design and assign projects to students requiring experiments or simulations to obtain results and first-hand knowledge—either independently or as part of a team. I believe that this hands-on experience gives my students a competitive edge in their graduate education and professional careers.

The third part of the strategy is an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and research that ensures our students’ competitiveness in today's global economy. Over many years, advancements in science and technology have broken down the boundaries separating traditional science fields. With that in mind, I have supported developing medical physics classes and laboratories at the University of Central Oklahoma. In 2000, I took a leadership role in establishing the biomedical engineering undergraduate degree program. Integrating biological and physical sciences, and mathematics and engineering, it is the first and only such program in Oklahoma. Today, the program is accredited by ABET Inc. (formerly the American Board for Engineering and Technology), and it enrolls more than 70 students.

I also take an interdisciplinary approach to my research on cancer treatments. Students work in my lab using laser immunotherapy, a novel treatment method that incorporates various fields including laser physics, engineering designs, biology and chemistry. These projects have included the design of laser delivery systems, temperature determination, drug administration and immunological assays.

Several larger themes also run through the thread of my teaching. 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 develop methods of approaching real-life problems. I teach them that the only constant in the real world is "change." I often challenge them with open-ended questions that reflect real-world issues. For example, challenges in cancer treatment are often the topics of my class discussions to stimulate students’ creativity.

Service learning is also important. 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 say that they did just that.