By Rebecca Renshaw
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” might spring to mind. Up and down the front sidewalk and spilling into the surrounding yard are breathtaking flowers and greenery – some cultivated, some exotic, and all astonishingly beautiful.
Han Lin Chen, a former professor at the SIU School of Engineering, began her gardening efforts upon her retirement 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 it to grow,” she says.
The results are impressive.
The milestones in the Chens’ professional careers are impressive, too. Upon joining the SIU faculty in 1965, Juh Wah Chen and his wife, Han Lin Chen, began laying down stakes in Carbondale, raising their three children and helping grow the College of Engineering into the expansive success it is today.
Juh Wah Chen also retired from the college after serving as its dean for 10 years.
“I remember riding on the train from Chicago to Carbondale with Dean Julian Lauchner, who was a bit of an exaggerator at times,” he recalls. “Trying to lure me from my 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, 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.”
Adds Han Lin Chen: “We thought it was great because our children could walk to and from Winkler School, which was just down the block. Life was good in those days. It still is.”
Their affinity for growing and nurturing became evident throughout the next 33 years. Their biographies both contain a long list of “firsts” and are filled with major accomplishments, such as:
- Juh Wah Chen developed the doctoral program in engineering science, was granted a half-million dollars from the Federal Department of Energy for a coal science project and in 1989 became dean of the college.
- Han Lin Chen was one of the first few female faculty in the college. She helped the female students initiate the “Women in Engineering” program and served as an advisor for many years. She was also the first female faculty member to receive tenure from the college.
Even though both are now retired from SIU, the Chens retain 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 Chen says. “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. They were like family.”
Because of their love for the university and the community, the Chens recently established a School of Engineering Excellence Fund to provide undergraduate scholarships, assistance to young faculty members, and funds for external activities such as sponsoring guest speakers. The Excellence Fund will complement the couple’s two existing scholarship endowment funds to the college.
“SIU is our entire life,” Juh Wah Chen says. “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 Chen adds that 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 says. “I am very grateful to SIU and all it has done for our family.”