New Hire Interview: Yanwei Wu – Exponent – Exponent

Associate professor in computer science and software engineering

UW-Platteville Communications picture

What is your education background?
Wu graduated from Tianjin University in Tianjin, China with undergraduate and master’s degrees in computer science.
Tianjin itself is one of the largest cities in China, and Tianjin University is one of the strongest engineering schools in China as well.
With the completion of her master’s degree, Wu reached a new pathway in her graduate program: education abroad. Her advisor’s program guided her graduate studies in the direction that, after completing the master’s degree, Wu would travel abroad and complete her Ph.D. in the U.S.
In 2005, Wu moved to Chicago to attend Illinois Institute of Technology in pursuit of her Ph.D.
Was it difficult for you to adjust to the new environment?
“Yeah, that was very hard, it was a very tough period for me. So first of all, always, is a culture and second is a language, and the third is an environment. Everything is not easy.”
Wu highlighted a difficult adjustment for her was transportation in the U.S. compared to in China.
“Even if you are in a small city in China, you don’t need to have a car; there is a public transportation system. So, you can easily go here to there. But, in Chicago, you still need to have a car. I did not have my driver’s license in China, so that was tough.” She also mentioned the challenges of adjusting to speaking English in the U.S.
The primary challenge arises from the differences in how English is taught versus how it is used. In China, British English is taught in middle schools, high schools and higher-level education settings. However, in the U.S., American English is used.
Wu also mentioned the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), and its program’s particular structure at the time she took it.
The exam tested a student’s ability to write and listen to English but did not test their ability to speak English.
While the formal classroom may not have been as fully preparatory as desired, Wu nonetheless adjusted very well and graduated from Illinois Tech in 2009 with a Ph.D. in computer science.
Have you taught anywhere else before UW-Platteville? If so, what type of classes did you teach?
“I had been teaching in Computer Science Department in Minnesota State University-Mankato for two years and then in Western Oregon University for almost 10 years before joining UW-Platteville.”
While at Mankato and Western Oregon, she taught a wide range of courses ranging from programming classes for Java and C++ to computational courses in algorithms and data communications to network courses focusing on wireless devices and security.
Wu now teaches Data Communication and Networks and Web Protocols this semester and will teach Computer Architecture and Operating Systems in the spring semester.
While working on her Ph.D., her research focused on wireless networking and how to manage devices.
“Wireless devices are really small, and they have limited resources for energy and computation ability. My research is to optimize that resource, how to minimize energy consumption, how to keep the wireless network connected.”
Wu made special note that researching wireless networks also led her to her passion and interest in cybersecurity and router security.
She will be teaching some cybersecurity courses as part of the cybersecurity curriculum which is currently being developed. Wu is both a part of the developmental team and the instructional team for the coming program here at Platteville.
“I have been teaching cybersecurity related courses, and that is why UW-Platteville hired me, because of that new program … it’s also my favorite [type of course to teach], and in recently years it’s very hot; there’s a shortage of cybersecurity professionals.”
What has the transition to online school been like for you?
“It seems that the online teaching is easier; you don’t need to go to the classroom, you don’t need to do the drive to the campus. It seems that online teaching is easier, but it’s not.”
Wu described the worthwhile complications of offering hybrid classes, aiming to provide consumable and usable content for real-time, in-class and online students as well as online viewing for later.
“I am learning, and I can feel that all the professors try their best to make a class as same as possible to the in-class and face-to-face.”
How did you become interested in the field in which you teach?
“[The way computers work] is completely different. Everybody has a computer now, but when I was young, most people did not have access to a computer or what a computer was.”
Wu’s introduction to and interest in computers first occurred in Children’s Palace, an afterschool program designed to engage students in nonacademic activities like dancing, modeling, ink-and-quill calligraphy and, in the case of Wu, computers.
Some of these activities required entrance exams to prove that students were prepared to participate. The computer class tested math, and Wu crushed math like a bug.
She also noted that there were no fees tied to the computer class.
“They probably did not think it was very interesting. Just like, ‘oh, I will go dancing,’ or ‘oh, I will go singing,’ it’s not that exciting.”
But true passion did not come from the economics of the course; it came from the experience of it.
There were many fun moments. Most notably, Wu described the day her teacher gave out computer code for a game.
“We just learned some basic language [for mathematical computation], but we cannot draw. To draw a picture is very difficult … Then, we had a piece of code on a paper that, in fact, was a game. It was a couple of lines of code … and you type some letters and you can see a plane fly through a tunnel. And that was amazing, so I decided, ‘I will take this as my future.’”
How did you become interested in teaching?
“I don’t really know why exactly I became interested in teaching, but once I wanted to teach something, I was excited to say something. It’s not like speaking or talking. I feel excited and, as we say in the game, I feel full-blooded.”
Wu distinguished the feeling of teaching from a book and teaching using concepts, highlighting the thrill of introducing concepts that apply to real life things and people instead of pages and words in a book.
“That means you really understand something, and also, it’s fun that you know something, understand something complicated and also can convey that to others. That is pretty, pretty cool.”
Do you have advice to share with students?
“Study hard and play hard. Don’t leave regrets.”