Students honor a tough professor
Editor's note: Dr. Chiu passed away Jan. 30, 2006. Active until the very last, he suffered a stroke while attending a Structural Engineers Association of Hawaiʻi function.
Tuition was $85, lettuce grew in the fields across Dole Street and only one engineering student was female when Arthur Chiu arrived at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in 1953, intending to teach for just one year.
Mānoa changed but Chiu stayed, and his 42-year teaching career has had a monumental and generational impact on engineering in Hawaiʻi.
"I was a very demanding teacher," laughs Chiu. Former student and retired City and County of Honolulu Director of Transportation Services Ed Hirata agrees but says Chiu was also fair.
Hirata took the first civil engineering class that Chiu taught, a summer surveying course with lots of homework. "We filed our assignments, and at the end of class our notebook was about two inches thick," he laughs.
"As an engineering student, you are basically learning how to use engineering tools to solve engineering problems," Hirata continues. "If you have a good professor, you learn a lot and are better prepared for the world of work when you graduate. Dr. Chiu was one of the best."
That’s why Hirata joined with other former students to form the Dr. Arthur N. L. Chiu Endowed Scholarship in Civil Engineering. The scholarship was proposed by Bob Akinaka, chairman of Akinaka and Associates, who knows Chiu professionally.
The professor has received many accolades—including Honorary Member status in the American Society of Civil Engineers, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Hawaiʻi Council of Engineering Societies and a UNESCO medal—but this honor would benefit students, Arinaka explains. "This is a way to pay him back and honor him for all he’s done," adds Hirata.
Chiu retains the same level of enthusiasm he had 40 years ago and maintains a personal interest in his students. It’s created an impressive response to the endowment, drawing donations even from a student still in school.
Sheryl Nojima isn’t surprised. "For someone who was teaching, serving as department chair and producing internationally respected research to take time out to keep in touch with his former students is exceptional," says the former assistant dean, now principal at Gray, Hong, Nojima and Associates. "He genuinely cares, and we would go out of our way to support him in any way we can."
Students were impressed with his open door policy, she recalls. "They told me that when they were studying late at night, got stuck on a problem and saw that his office light on, they knew he would welcome them and help. Not many professors were that gracious."
Since retiring in 1995, Chiu remains a fixture around campus, volunteering on committees pertaining to his research area (the effects of wind on structures) and participating in Chi Epsilon, the National Civil Engineering Honor Society chapter he helped organize. Since 1957, Chi Epsilon has inducted nearly 700 members. "I still love it or I wouldn’t stay," says Chiu.
He misses teaching. "I liked helping them grow and become good thinkers." Students were his greatest joy, and he knew them all—grading every test and tracking each student’s progress.
To ensure that everyone had an equal footing, Chiu never gave the same test twice, but filed each in the library for use as study aids. Most of the 350 guests at his retirement dinner were his students, an indication of the respect they have for him, Hirata says.
Chiu recalls the time a student asked if he knew someone. "I said ’Yes, he was my student,’ and she said, ’He’s my dad.’ What a shock that was." Chiu has since known more than 20 second-generation students. Nojima was one-father Wallace Endo, brother Howard and sister Carolyn Len all had Chiu for class. Like them, she was a member of Chi Epsilon.
Not all of his students became engineers. "I always tell my students, just because you are an engineer by training doesn’t mean that you have to be an engineer. Engineering is a methodical and analytical way of solving problems, which will be invaluable in any field," he says.
The 1982 recipient of a Regents’ Award for Excellence in Teaching says he’s humbled by the endowed scholarship.
He is appreciative too...for the students who will benefit.
For more information on the Dr. Arthur N. L. Chiu Endowed Scholarship, call Kerri Van Duyne, College of Engineering development director, at 808 956-2299. Donations can be mailed to the College of Engineering, 2540 Dole St. Holmes 240G, Honolulu, HI 96822 or made on line at the UH Foundation site.