TAIPEI, Taiwan — New Jersey Institute of Technology President Teik Lim and his wife, Gina Lim, didn’t return from the 2023 New Jersey East Asia Economic Mission trip last Sunday with the rest of the delegates. They stayed behind an extra day to visit with their extended family. Their extended NJIT family.
Incredibly, there are more than 700 NJIT alumni living in Taiwan.
On an economic mission trip that featured seven institutions of higher education that were looking to increase their presence in East Asia, NJIT showed just deep and meaningful these connections can be. The school, which began attracting students from Taiwan a generation ago, is well-established here.
But it’s no longer thriving.
The movement of Taiwanese students to NJIT slowed in the past decade, as the need for a U.S. degree decreased as the economic vitality of the island increased. That view, however, is changing — and Lim wants to ensure that NJIT is ready to be a leading partner again.
“I think there is an understanding again that Taiwanese students need to be more globally focused,” he said. “We’re trying to bring back the glory days of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, when droves of Taiwanese students were going to NJIT.
“We want to resurrect that — and we want to be ready to accept them once they start realizing that going abroad to study is a good thing.”
It’s one of the reasons that three of the five Memoranda of Understanding that NJIT signed on the trip were with Taiwan-based schools. The partnerships will lead to increases research partnerships in key fields such as artificial intelligence, semiconductors, materials and manufacturing, environment, sustainability and more. They also will lead to more student exchanges.
And, as Lim points out, NJIT and its students will benefit as much as the students from Taiwan.
Lim offered three key reasons:
- Global connectivity: “In order for us to better educate our own citizens, we have to be globally minded,” he said. “We have to engage globally by bringing the experience that people have gone through abroad to New Jersey. That will help us train our students to be global professionals.”
- Increased resources: “Funding from the state is limited,” he said. “It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just how things are. Raising tuition is not an answer, because 50% of our students are first generation, many of which have limited resources. So, we need to find resources outside of NJIT. and overseas is a good place to start.”
- Expanded opportunities: “We need to create increased research opportunities for our faculty and our students,” he said. “We can do research with Rutgers and Princeton, there’s nothing wrong with that. But they are not that much different than NJIT. If we do research with someone in Taiwan, who has a totally different life experience, we feel we have a better chance at finding solutions for some of the most challenging problems that we face in the world.”
The Taiwanese are all in.
The agreement the school signed with National Taiwan University of Science and Technology includes substantial amounts of scholarship money from the minister of education in Taiwan to bring students from NJIT to Taiwan Tech for three different programs, ranging in length from one week to one semester — and ranging in curriculum from a problem-based learning scenario to complete cultural immersion.
The minister of education also has agreed to pay for a Mandarin teacher to work out of NJIT, helping students in New Jersey get a head start on language.
Restarting a connection with Taiwan also will help in another key area: The diversification of the international student population at NJIT. Right now, it is dominated by students from China and India.
Lim not only wants to grow the total number (from approximately 10% now to 15% in the future), he wants to diversity where the students are from. Doing more in Taiwan — where Choose New Jersey is opening an office — may also help the school attract students from Japan, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and elsewhere along the Asia-Pacific Rim.
This increase, along with the already high percentage of Hispanic and Black students, will accentuate an already incredibly diverse makeup of students, Lim said.
“We’re very diverse now and we’re proud of that,” he said. “We think the world is going to be more homogeneous in the future.
“We think diversity will be prevalent everywhere and it won’t matter if you’re Black or white or green or whatever.”
Few people personify this ethnic ambiguity as much as Lim.
He was born in Malaysia to fourth-generation Chinese parents who moved to Taiwan — and he has a last name that many incorrectly assume is Korean.
“When I first got hired at NJIT, I had a number of Korean media outlets that wanted to interview me,” he said. “I didn’t want to tell them that I’m not Korean.”
That didn’t matter on this trip. In each part of the journey, local media were eager to talk to an East Asian man leading a key STEM university in the U.S.
“It’s a huge difference,” he said. “It’s definitely important.”
And Lim said it certainly will help NJIT grow its presence in East Asia, especially in Taiwan, where the NJIT extended family was eager to welcome him.
“I’ve been coming to Taiwan for more than a decade now,” he said. “And, each time I come here, I think they see a little more as their own. And it’s easier to do business and it’s easier to attract students because I share the same culture and ethnicity.”