Although only 5-foot-6, he has been a semipro basketball player.
And one of the most disturbing experiences of his youth was coming face to face with rigidly enforced segregation in Kentucky.
The man is UC Irvine’s new No. 2 official, Chang-Lin Tien. Tien, who took over as UCI’s executive vice chancellor Sept. 1, held his first press conference Wednesday. In addition to answering questions about university administration, Tien, a 53-year-old mechanical engineering expert, related some personal anecdotes.
One anecdote that he told with a broad smile involved his unlikely “career” as a basketball star in Taiwan.
“When I was a student in college (in Taiwan), I was crazy,” Tien said. “I was a movie and Hollywood fanatic, and I was crazy about basketball. I would spend six, seven hours a day on the basketball court, and even though at 5-foot-6 I was the shortest, I played on the varsity basketball team. Later I even played for the (Taiwan) Military Academy and even some semipro basketball.”
Tien, a large grin on his face, said his dreams of being a basketball star were short-lived.
“When I came to the United States in 1956, I immediately realized I had no future in basketball,” Tien said. “I like a challenge, but that was just a little bit too much.”
A native of mainland China, Tien grew up in Taiwan. After immigrating to the United States, he enrolled at the University of Louisville in Kentucky to pursue a master’s degree in mechanical engineering.
Tien said his arrival in Louisville in 1956 brought him into contact with race-separation laws.
“I was a poor student and I traveled by bus,” he said. “When I got off at the bus station (in Louisville), I saw drinking fountains that said ‘whites only’ and drinking fountains for ‘colored.’ I was very disturbed. I didn’t know which fountain I was supposed to use.”
Tien related the segregation anecdote to underscore his empathy for minority students. During the press conference, held in UCI’s Administration Building, he fielded several questions about race relations on the Irvine campus. He said that he had heard about past incidents of racial tension at UCI but that many universities have occasional flare-ups. One way to improve race relations, he said, is to make sure that there are many “cross-cultural” events offered on campus so that all ethnic groups can get to know and understand each other.
“One problem for the (nine-campus) University of California is that it has a strong outreach program but it is not as good at retaining the minority students it attracts,” Tien said. “I want us to have a very good retention program. I want minority students to have strong support services.”
Tien is second only to Chancellor Jack Peltason in UCI’s chain of command. He was named executive vice chancellor after a national search. Before coming to UCI, Tien was a research professor with an endowed chair at UC Berkeley. He was that campus’s vice chancellor for research from 1983 to 1986.
Tien, who holds a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from Princeton University in New Jersey, is a nationally recognized expert in the field of heat transfer. He played a key role in solving the problem of keeping heat-shielding tiles from falling off the U.S. space shuttles during the early days of the program.
Tien and his wife, Di-Hwa, live in University Hills on the UCI campus. He said he is enthusiastic about living in Orange County and working with UCI.
“This is a young university--only 23 years old--and already it is becoming a great university,” he said.