In Memoriam – Tribute to Prof. Mitchell M. Tseng as Teacher, Mentor and Friend (HKUST International Students)
To Jennifer, Sophia, Angie, Family, his Friends, Colleagues and Students
On the 24th of October 2019 we received a message that stemmed its way right into our hearts – it was the news that Prof. Mitchell M. Tseng, our teacher, mentor and, more than this, our friend, has passed away. Even though we were aware of his health condition and the many battles he had to fight in past years, whenever we met or talked to him he was strong at heart, optimistic and even enthusiastic about all the things to come, implicitly assuring all of us he is and will be here for us – no worries. But now everything changed! Of course, it is not unusual in the stage of our lives to witness friends and colleagues loosing teachers and mentors but we felt it would never happen to us. Yet it did. What a loss, what a tragedy! We, his former international students at the HKUST, feel a deep sadness and an aching heart but we know we are not the ones hit most, the ones who had to walk the last mile with him, his family, his wife Jennifer, his daughters Sophia and Angie with husbands and grandchildren. We would like to offer our sincere condolence to all of you losing a beloved husband, father and grandfather.
Prof. Tseng had built up a wide network of friendly partnerships with leading international universities and institutions through which most of us were invited to join the HKUST Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management Department under his lead. We came from France, Germany, India or Indonesia to name but a few of the countries. All of us have been moving into a new world, a different cultural environment far from home. When we met Prof. Tseng first, it wouldn’t take long to discover his warm heart, his caringness and the way he would welcome you in Hong Kong. He addressed everyone on a very personal level with open eyes and ears perceiving worries and difficulties and advising solutions. It was him who gave us a new home. First physically then mentally and later rationally and cognitively.
When Prof. Tseng entered the room his presence filled every corner. Not physically, as he was not the tallest or biggest compared to many of his students, and not because of his strictness, loudness or calls for discipline, but rather because of the weight of his words and the sharpness of his thoughts that he understood to present calmly and mostly with a smile on his lips. He had one of the most brilliant and receptive minds and an extremely fast perception, yet he often would asked more questions you could handle. This was his dialectic approach to teaching for postgraduates. He was strict on rational deduction and asked for precision in wording. His heart was beating for industrial engineering and engineering science. May be this is why his conclusions, the essence of his advice and the input to your work he would deliver were in most cases simple, grounded and very down-to-earth. Still he gave us plenty of room for our visions and ideas. He was always open for new scientific fields and we truly stretched this openness far. Aside from engineering, math, physics or computer science we were allowed to explore and incorporate teachings from fields as far as biology, epistemology or anthropology widening our view and perception. He proved to have a good hand in driving each of us to explore our limits and stretch beyond.
Almost at any time, Prof Tseng was approachable, open for a face-to-face discussion. He showed interest in our concerns no matter what they were. We could discuss engineering, science or life in general and even the minor blips in life. Having someone like him, with a brilliant mind and his invaluable set of experience, to listen and advice is something truly irreplaceable. He gave direction and advice were no one else could have done so. And he did all this with warmth at heart.
Privately Prof. Tseng taught us a lot about the essence of life: good friendship! Often he invited us for snacks or even dinners, took us for squid fishing to the Sai Kung Bay or arranged for a BBQ. Very special events however were the invitations that we were allowed to enjoy at Prof. Tsengs home. Jennifer and Prof. Tseng were excellent hosts, offering exquisite foods and beverages, as well as evenings packed with thoughtful talks and discussions.
Deep inside his passion burned for the development towards a better world. Prof. Tseng was always in pursuit of better engineering solutions for the world to come. He strived for precision and excellence in operational execution to reduce costs and the waste of resources, making solutions more affordable for everyone. He knew that tomorrows challenges can only be coped with if everyone cooperates on an international basis. For this reason, he built bridges between continents and cultures. He cared for international relations between relevant players in the industry, science and engineering communities. With great success he built various international student exchange programs and taught his courses for national and international students alike. Even after his students left the HKUST, Prof. Tseng kept close ties, often visiting them abroad during one of his many journeys, when time permitted.
Prof. Tseng has gone home now leaving those of us who grieve his passing with the memories he gave. We will strive to best take over his legacy and passion. May God bless Prof. Tseng and may he rest in eternal peace.
Landau a. d. Isar , Germany, the 11th of November 2019
Barbara and Markus Thannhuber