Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Binghamton University
It’s not unusual for a person to make a donation in honor of someone important to them, often a close friend or family member. But when Miao Hu decided to give his first gift to the NYU Tandon School of Engineering — $5,000 to the Promise Scholarship Fund — last year, he knew he wanted to pay tribute to a less common honoree: a departmental administrator at the school. “When I was sitting there thinking about why I wanted to give this money to [Tandon], the first thing that came into my mind — the first memory — was Valerie,” says Hu.
Hu is referring to Valerie Davis, now the Budget and Operations Manager in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Tandon, who has spent years helping the department’s international students navigate the ins and outs of academic life in the United States. To Hu, a native of China, Valerie was one of the many people who made the Tandon School of Engineering, then known as the Polytechnic Institute of NYU (Poly), feel like a second home to him. “There were so many rules [for students]...when we made mistakes, Valerie tried to help us — she was on our side,” Hu says.
A Passionate Community
That sense of caring from the staff was just one quality that made Poly so special for Hu. Another was the sense of passion and community he found here. Following his undergraduate education in China, Hu spent several years interning and working before he returned to school to pursue his doctorate in electrical engineering. After six months of graduate-level coursework at a prestigious Chinese university, he felt disheartened by the lack of drive and inspiration he saw around him in the lab. When he asked his fellow students “if they thought research was creative and important to society, most of them said they didn’t know,” Hu recalls. “Their passion for research was suppressed by the pressure to get results and publications in a really short amount of time.”
"A lot of students want to get easy A’s, but at Poly, I found a group of students who were working really hard and felt passionate about what they were learning."
Hu decided to go abroad to continue his education and, after applying to five schools, decided to come to Poly. When he arrived, Hu recalls feeling like he’d finally found peers who were as passionate and hard-working as he was. “A lot of students want to get easy A’s, but at Poly, I found a group of students who were working really hard and felt passionate about what they were learning,” says Hu. He saw that same passion in his professors. “I really enjoyed their courses because I could feel that they liked what they were researching and felt they were doing something important, so they wanted to share that with [their students],” he says.
Researcher turned Benefactor
Hu’s enthusiasm for his research has continued since his time at the School of Engineering. After completing his doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh in 2014, he spent three years working as a post-doc at Hewlett-Packard Labs in California, where he specialized in areas like machine learning and AI. Hu has since been named Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Binghamton University — a role that suits him well. “Becoming a professor means I can pursue my research interests more freely,” says Hu.
Although he is still in the early stages of his career, Hu says he felt compelled to start using his financial resources to give back sooner rather than later. “I always try to make my life simple,” Hu says. “I don’t spend much money and if you don’t use it, it has no value...I want to put that [money] to good use.”
Hu hopes that this first donation will help increase scholarship support for Chinese students, giving smart, hard-working students the chance to study at NYU Tandon, regardless of their ability to pay full tuition. He also hopes that it will inspire other Chinese alumni to give back to the school.
As he progresses in his career, Hu intends to continue to support NYU Tandon — a place that remains very special to him, especially in his new role as professor. “I hope I can also inspire my students to pursue their dreams, like my professors at Poly inspired me.”