A desire to solve real-world problems drove Shu-Cherng Fang’s move from mathematics to engineering
It was his sense of honor and love for mathematics that started his career. But it was his refusal to settle for “good enough” that brought Shu-Cherng Fang to NC State. “They told me in high school that mathematics, physics and economics were important for everyone’s future,” recalled Dr. Fang. “So I picked mathematics.” Upon graduation from Taichung First Senior High School in Taiwan, Fang attended National Tsing Hua University. There he would receive his undergraduate degree in mathematics. His next stop was Johns Hopkins University where he received a Hopkins Fellowship.
At Johns Hopkins, Dr. Fang had a realization. “The world is more than mathematical equations and formulas,” he mused. “I wanted to do something for society, to see something happen more quickly.” He wanted to move away from abstract to more concrete, real-world problem solving.
After a sincere conversation with his brothers, the idea of transitioning from mathematics to engineering arose.
So he enrolled at Northwestern University, where he received the Murphey Fellowship. Here, Dr. Fang received his Ph.D. in industrial engineering and management science in just six quarters. During his fifth quarter, Dr. Ron Thomas, a recruiter for Bell Laboratories, offered him a position at Bell Labs.
Dr. Fang’s career at the AT&T Engineering Research Center at Princeton was quick, intense and rewarding. By proving his skill and expertise, he received a promotion to a technical supervisor position at Bell Laboratories. Dr. Fang won the Technical Achievement Award and was again promoted. This time to department manager at the headquarters of AT&T Technologies.
As is common in many large corporations, solutions to problems that were “good enough” were often implemented. Fang found that he had an appetite for investigating the possibility of a perfect solution. “I wanted to have the luxury of looking into a problem inside out to find the optimal and best result,” explained Dr. Fang. “What better position to achieve this than a college professor?”
This concept, along with the corporation’s demands of travel and the uncertainty of long-term satisfaction, set Dr. Fang on the path to NC State University in 1988. NC State, where he had been a college recruiter for Bell Labs, was appealing. “It was the progressive nature of the University and the quality of the individuals that worked in the ISE Department,” he recalled.
“The most satisfactory things about being a professor are being able to watch students grow, being a part of their lives and having the luxury to work on problems that are important,” he remarked.
Dr. Fang believes in the philosophy of becoming a complete person. “Life has many, many faces,” he proposed. “It is important to study and immerse yourself in the things that you enjoy about life; to read, to experience and to learn about what makes you happy.”
“If I put all my time into my research, I could have done better,” he declared. “But life is more than that.”