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UT News

Class of 2011: Parents’ pride

Graduating student Emily Chen is an Engineering graduate building success on her family’s work ethic.

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About 7,500 students will graduate from The University of Texas at Austin at the 128th spring commencement this Saturday, May 21. Each graduate has a unique story. To celebrate the Class of 2011, we’re highlighting 10 stories, profiling students who have overcome obstacles, discovered new dimensions and doggedly pursued their academic goals.

More than 25 years ago, Emily Chen‘s parents made a hard choice so their daughters would face easier ones.

Chen’s parents left their friends and family behind in Taiwan and moved 8,000 miles away to the Houston area, where they knew only two other people.

Despite their sacrifices, the couple believed that one day, when they had children, they would have unlimited opportunities they may not have experienced otherwise.

Chen, now a senior in the Cockrell School of Engineering, credits their ambition for the determination she brings to her academic and professional goals.

“Many first-generation children are expected to fulfill the dreams or expectations of their parents,” said Chen, a biomedical engineering and Liberal Arts Plan II Honors double-major who graduates May 20. “For me, that pressure encouraged me to do a lot of things, and I blossomed under it.”

That’s not to say Chen is fulfilling anyone else’s dreams but her own. In August, she will begin law school at the University of California Berkeley, where she plans to study patent law. It may seem like a change in direction for a biomedical engineering grad, but Chen aims to use what she’s learned at the Cockrell School and as a student researcher to eventually try to improve the patent process so it’s easier to push out life-saving drugs or innovative technologies, like those she has researched while at The University of Texas at Austin.

In her fourth year, Chen created a robotic glove made of conductive thread and piezoresistive material that senses and measures how much pressure is applied when touched. The technology works like artificial skin, or e-skin, which could be used in robotics for everything from communicating with a robot the difference in how it should gently hold an egg or firmly slam a door based on its senses.

Among the long-term goals of such research is to restore the sense of touch for burn victims or patients with prosthetic limbs, Chen said.

Aside from research, Chen has honed her leadership skills through a number of activities on campus. She spent a summer working for the university’s Office of Technology Commercialization a job that helped inspire her to pursue patent law. She was president of the Student Engineering Council and represented engineering students on the university’s Senate of College Councils.

Despite her successes, there have been challenges along the way, such as juggling work and research in her pursuit of two rigorous degrees.

“There were definitely semesters where I really struggled, and semesters where I stayed up all night. I had to learn the importance of sleep,” Chen said.

She attributes her work ethic to the example set by her parents growing up.

“I want to make them proud. I know they did a lot coming to a new country, and they did a lot to help me explore what my interests were at a young age,” she said. “I’d like to say that I inspired more than one person and that they will inspire others to be passionate and lead by example. Others did that to me and I’m grateful because it’s allowed me to be who I am.”