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Chen-Wen Tarn G’91

Dreams Come True for Chen-Wen Tarn Ph.D '91…and His Son

Chen-Wen Tarn and son JoshuaAs a young boy growing up in Taiwan, Chen-Wen Tarn Ph.D. G’91 had a single dream.  “I wanted to go to the United States to study,” he says. He would have to work hard and wait and show patience, but his dream did come true.

Tarn earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Taiwan’s Tamkang University. After graduating, he went on to complete his mandatory two years in the Taiwan military. He was in boot camp completing heavy military maneuvers when he decided to apply to Syracuse University for graduate school. The year was 1984, a full decade before personal computers were the norm. 

When Tarn was not able to locate a typewriter to use while in boot camp, he completed his application by hand. “My friends told me, there is no way you’ll get in, printing it yourself,” Tarn remembers. But his friends were wrong. He was accepted and also received a scholarship that made it possible for him to travel across the world and begin his Ph.D. 

Why Syracuse? First, Tarn was familiar with several of the professors’ names, because they had written the textbooks he had studied from as an undergraduate.  “It was an excellent engineering and computer science program with well-known scholars,” he says. Second, he remembers being intrigued with living in a city that had four distinct seasons, explaining, “in Taiwan we have two seasons—hot and not so hot.”

Today, Tarn is a professor of electronic and computer engineering at National Taiwan University of Science and Technology. He says his memories of Syracuse are vivid. He arrived August 17, 1985, and the airline lost his luggage. But a senior who was a member of the Chinese Student Association was there to greet him and help him out. 

That night, Tarn stayed in an apartment on Westcott Street. Because of jet lag, he was wide awake at 5 or so the next morning, and took a walk along Westcott to Euclid Avenue. “There was sun, the birds were chirping…it was so beautiful,” he says. “I really was full of hope. It was a new beginning for me.”

His experience in the engineering school did not disappoint. “I had many very good professors. I loved the courses,” Tarn says. “The professors were very willing to help the graduate students.” Tarn’s method was to read the textbook before each class. While confident of his physics, engineering, and mathematical abilities, he says that developing proficiency in English was his biggest challenge. 

In August, Tarn came to Syracuse accompanied by his son Joshua ’23, now a first-year student in the School of Architecture. While in Syracuse, Tarn had lunch with several former professors, including Shiu-Kai Chin and emeritus professors Harry Schwarzlander and Arlon Adams. Dr. Adams surprised Tarn by bringing along his old grade book from Tarn’s time in his class. “He said to me, ‘Look, you got all A’s,’’’ Tarn says. “It was so touching.”

Like his father, Joshua has dreamed of studying in the U.S. since childhood. From the age of 8, he expressed an interest in architecture. After his junior year in high school, Joshua attended Syracuse University Summer College, a program that offers high school students an opportunity to explore an academic interest in a college setting.

Joshua applied for admission the following year.  Tarn is gratified his son has the same sense of excitement about Syracuse he himself had some 30 years ago. “He likes it very much,” Tarn says. “The best part is, he said to me the other day, ‘I belong here.’” 

Published: November 2018