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November 03, 2016

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Chens remain big supporters of college

If you have the good fortune of visiting the home of Juh Wah Chen and Han Lin Chen in rural Carbondale, the phrase “bloom where you are planted” can spring quickly to mind.

Up and down the front sidewalk and spilling into the surrounding yard are a breathtaking array of flowers and greenery, some cultivated and some exotics and all astonishingly beautiful.

Han Lin Chen, a former professor in of engineering at SIU, began her gardening efforts upon retiring in 1990.

“The soil was mostly hard clay, but I found I could dig one plant up where it wasn’t thriving and move it to another place that allowed I to grow,” she said.

The results are impressive.

The Chens’ professional careers are impressive, too.  Upon joining the SIU faculty in 1965, Juh Wah Chen and Han Lin Chen began laying down stakes in Carbondale, raising three children and helping grow what became the College of Engineering into the expansive success it is today. Juh Wah Chen would serve as its dean for 10 years before retiring as well.

“I remember riding on the train from Chicago to Carbondale with Dean Julian Lauchner, who was a bit of an exaggerator at times,” Juh Wah Chen remembered, smiling. “Trying to lure me from position at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, he told me great stories of SIU’s College of Engineering, about its facilities and the campus. It was only when we arrived in Carbondale when the dean confessed that the buildings were still under construction.”

“Nevertheless,” Juh Wah Chen continued, “because my wife had attended SIU earlier and received a master’s degree in chemistry, i already had a special place in my heart for both the community and the college. We moved our family to Carbondale, where we raised them in a little home on Skyline Drive. I saw the opportunity for growth Dean Lauchner laid before me, and I was up for the challenge.”

“We thought it was great because our children could walk to and from Winkler School, which was just down the block,” said Han Lin Chen. “Life was good in those days. It still is.”

Their affininty for growing and nutruing became evident throughout the next 33 years. Their biographies both contain long lists of “firsts” and are filled with major accomplishments, including:

-Juh Wah developing the doctoral program in engineering science, receiving a half-million-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for a coal science project and becoming dean of the college in 1989.

-Han Lin becoming one of the first female faculty in the College of Engineering, helping female students initiate the “Women in Engineering” program and serving as an adviser for many years, as well as being the first female faculty member to receive tenure in the college.

Though both are now retired from SIU, the couple have retained a strong commitment to the university.

“Back when we were both active at the college, we would always have students over at our house,” Han Lin said. “We just opened the door to them and made sure we had food on hand. I remember one time we had over 100 students at our house. There were like family.”

Because of their love for the university and the community, in May of this year the Chens established a Chen Engineering Excellence Fund to provide undergraduate scholarships, assistance to young faculty members and funds for external activities such as sponsoring guest speakers. The fund will compliment the couple’s two existing scholarship endowment funds to the College of Engineering.

“SIU is our entire life,” Juh Wah said. “We have always done the best we can for SIU and the College of Engineering. For us, money is of secondary importance. We live a simple life and we don’t like to see things go to waste. If we can help and contribute, then we will. We just want to see SIU become sustainable and we want to help move it forward.”

Han Lin said the fellowship SIU offered her as a student was instrumental to her success.

“Without it, I know I would not have been able to come to the United States,” she said. “I am very grateful to SIU and all it has done for our family.”