Posted May 21st, 2014
It isn’t unusual to hear that a married couple met while attending the same school. It’s not even all that rare to hear about a child applying to a mother’s or father’s alma mater, especially if the parent has fond memories of a school and feels that he or she received a good education there. The Lu family—father I-Tai, mother Celine, and sons Enoch and Jonathan—take that paradigm to a whole new level: between them, the four Lus hold nine degrees from what is now known as the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering.
In the late 1970s, while I-Tai Lu was working as an electrical engineering instructor at the National Chiao Tung University, in Hsinchu City, Taiwan, a speaker visited the campus to discuss the exciting opportunities available at a school in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. Leopold Felsen, a near-legendary figure who had written a seminal text about electromagnetic waves, was affiliated with the school, then called the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn.
Inspired by the chance to study with Felsen, in 1980 I-Tai packed his bags for the United States. “My mother wasn’t really happy,” he recalled, “but what could she do? I was determined.” Any homesickness he might have felt was assuaged, however, by the thrill of studying with Felsen and the other professors in the Department of Electrical Engineering—and by the company of an attractive undergraduate he had met while exiting Jacobs Hall one day.
Celine Choi was not only a fellow electrical engineering major, she attended the same local church, and in January 1985 the pair married. It was a noteworthy year for other reasons as well: I-Tai earned his doctoral degree and remained at the school to teach (he is still an admired and respected figure in the department) and Celine, who had earned her bachelor’s degree from the school in 1983, received her master’s degree in 1985.
The year also ended on a high note, with the eagerly anticipated birth of a son, Enoch, in December. Jonathan, a second son, followed in 1988. Despite having an electrical engineering professor for a father, and a mother who also trained in the field, neither boy felt overt pressure to become an engineer. “I actually thought about medicine or law for a long time,” Jonathan explained. Even when they were tackling math or science homework, the Lu sons rarely asked for help from their knowledgeable parents. “We didn’t believe in hovering over them,” Celine said. “We wanted them to be independent, to work at their own pace, and to make their own decisions. As long as they lived up to their potential, we would be happy.”
Still, I-Tai and Celine did not shy away from giving an opinion when it was time for Enoch to apply to college. Their alma mater was a fine school, and, equally as important, made exceptional financial sense. Enoch had been offered a full scholarship as part of the inaugural Polytechnic Honor College class. Although he initially toyed with the idea of going to John Hopkins University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, to which he applied and had been accepted, Enoch recognized the wisdom in his parent’s thinking, and he went on to earn combined bachelor’s and master’s degrees (2008) and a doctoral degree (2012) in electrical engineering from what was by then commonly known as NYU-Poly.
Jonathan, similarly taking advantage of a full scholarship offer from the Honors College, also entered the school, earning combined bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 2010 and a doctoral degree, which he is receiving this year. (In the wake of the official merger of January 2014, his will be the first diploma in the family to read NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering.) Like his parents and brother, he is an electrical engineer. He’s thankful that six years of his time at the school overlapped with that of his brother. “During the years we rented an apartment together, he was generally a good influence on me,” Jonathan grudgingly admits of his older sibling.
Both now live in California, where Enoch works for Qualcomm and Jonathan, who will return to Brooklyn to attend commencement, recently started a job with Polaris Wireless. “I miss them, of course, but they are independent adults now,” Celine said. “Besides, because they attended school right in Brooklyn, I had them nearby for eight years longer than many of my friends, whose children went off to school in other parts of the country.”
Asked if there might be anything she won’t miss, Celine replied, “All that shop talk! Many times I had to remind those three that they were at the dinner table not a lab. I had to tell them it was time to stop talking about engineering and eat.”