Chinese American Heroines: Heidi Shyu

Print Friendly

This is Week Four of AsianWeek’s salute to Chinese American Heroes and this week, we want to tell you about our engineers.

Within the Chinese American community, it is often heard that all parents want their offspring to be doctors, lawyers, or engineers. These stories are exaggerations.

The truth is that most parents want their children to get a good education, and become the professionals that parents expect. Most parents eventually get over it though. A disproportionate number of Chinese Americans do study math and become engineers but most don’t, just like most don’t become doctors or lawyers either. Still, the numbers are interesting. While Chinese Americans comprise roughly 1.5 % of the nation’s population approximately 15% of all the engineers and technicians working for our national laboratories have typically Chinese one syllable surnames like Lee, Wong, or Chin.

Here are a few engineers who have made significant contributions to America and the world beginning with Ms. Heidi Shyu who was so talented that she became the first woman appointed as Chief of the U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. Following Heidi, we will talk about David K. Lam, David S. Lee, Tung-yen Lin, and James Wei.

For a look at other outstanding Chinese American Heroes from all professions, places, and times, please check our website at www.chineseamericanheroes.org

Today’s Chinese American Heroine: Heidi Shyu

heidi-shyu

Name in English: Heidi Shyu
Name in Chinese: 徐若冰
Name in Pinyin: Xú Ruòbīng
Gender: Female
Birth Place: Taiwan
Profession (s): Electrical engineer, technology and research development leader

Education: B.S., Mathematics, University of New Brunswick; M.S., Mathematics, University of Toronto; M.S., Electrical Engineering, University of California-Los Angeles; E.E., Electrical Engineering, University of California-Los Angeles

Award(s): 2004, Chinese Institute of Engineers -USA (CIE-USA) Asian-American Engineer of the Year Award; 2007, Chinese-American Engineers and Scientists Association of Southern California (CESASC) Achievement Award; Raytheon’s Hero Award; Excellence in Technology Award; Hughes Fellowship; University of Toronto Fellowship; New Brunswick Post-Graduate Scholarship; Atlantic Provinces Inter-University Committee Scholarship; N. Myles Brown Science Award; University Special Undergraduate Scholarship

Contribution(s): Soon after the age of 10, Heidi Shyu, emigrated from her native Taiwan to the United States without knowing any words of English.  In her own words she was a horrible student in Taiwan who hated rote learning and only learned to speak up, disagree, be noticed, and love school in America.  Her affinity for math and science led her to pursue multiple degrees in mathematics and electrical engineering.  She has worked for Raytheon Company for over 20 years and led a number of significant US Air Force projects including the Joint Strike Fighter and the development of other manned and unmanned aircraft systems.   As Vice President of Corporate Technology and Research for Raytheon she is responsible for determining the direction of the company’s research efforts.  At a time the US was facing two overseas wars, unprecedented terrorist threats, and the greatest increase in defense spending since the 1980s, Heidi Shyu was selected as Chair of the USAF Scientific Board in 2005. That a Chinese American woman was selected for such a position is a testament to her skills and the respect with which she is viewed by the US Government, the military, and her scientific peers..

In many of her interviews she cites a situation in 1997 when she managed a large team of mainly men charged with the impossible task of designing a lighter version of a 325-pound electronically scanned antenna to beat out a competitor’s design. Shyu lightened the mood with a challenge to design it to her weight.  After much work and an endlessly available supply of food and treats offered by the engineers, the team delivered a model three months ahead of schedule weighing 112 pounds.  “People can do extraordinary things that will exceed their expectations,” she said.

In 2007, Ms. Shyu wrote an article titled “America’s New Deficit: A Shortage of Technology Specialists” in which she called on American youth, especially women and minorities, to become engineers and scientists.

About the Author