in the Classroom
Honoring the career of longtime electrical engineering professor Mo-Shing Chen.
Honoring the career of longtime electrical engineering professor Mo-Shing Chen.
UNIVERSITIES ARE BASTIONS of education, innovation, and leadership, and UT Arlington is no different. Over its 125-year history it has had its share of visionaries and leaders in their fields, many of whom have enjoyed a connection with the College of Engineering. One of those, Mo-Shing Chen, spent a 40-year career building an international reputation in the field of power systems engineering and creating a legacy of students who credit him with pushing them toward rewarding careers.
Hired in 1962 by Wendell Nedderman—then the dean of engineering for Arlington State College—as a young, newly graduated PhD, Dr. Chen joined an institution with little funded research, no graduate school, and no plans to add one. By 1966, a graduate school had been established for master's-level students; by 1969, the first doctoral program, in electrical engineering, was approved. Two years later, one of Chen's students, Howard Daniels, successfully defended his doctoral dissertation and became UT Arlington's first PhD graduate.
“Starting at virtually zero and developing a superb reputation as an educator and researcher, Dr. Chen was a pioneer in every sense of the word. His accomplishments over the next 30 or more years speak for themselves,” says Raymond Shoults, a professor emeritus of electrical engineering at UTA who earned his doctoral degree under Chen and later joined the electrical engineering faculty.
Chen's family moved from China to Taiwan when he was a teenager, during China's Communist Revolution. He earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from National Taiwan University in 1954, followed by mandatory service in the army and a brief tenure at Taiwan Power Company, which piqued his interest in the power industry. He moved to the United States to study power systems engineering under world-renowned expert Edith Clarke at UT Austin, where he earned his master's degree in 1958 and doctorate in 1962.
His first power systems course at UTA was nearly canceled due to a lack of students, but he offered to teach it for free in addition to his regular course load. Word spread quickly about his knowledge of the subject and his easygoing, student-focused teaching style, and his courses became popular.
“I consider Dr. Chen one of the finest teachers I had during my whole career. After more than 35 years, I still can remember his peculiar way of teaching, where the power system was just a circle on the blackboard—but from that simple geometrical figure, he was able to connect the students with all the components of that power system: how they interact, how variables change, and simply how the power system works,” says Enrique Tejera ('83 MS, Electrical Engineering), manager of the High Voltage Section in the Panama Canal Authority. “Dr. Chen's teaching was always an inspiration to me, and I was able to move forward in my career, solving problems and also contributing to power system development in my country, thanks to the knowledge I acquired at UTA.”
In 1964, Chen began offering a course in power systems called Modeling and Analysis of Modern Power Systems. He drummed up interest by visiting local electric utilities and offering to teach the course on-site for their engineers. When it proved popular, he standardized the content and moved it on campus as a two-week short course. Over more than 35 years, more than 1,500 participants from academia and industry, representing 398 companies, attended.
Chen formed the Energy Systems Research Center (ESRC) in 1968, in part because he saw that electrical engineering programs at universities around the country were not meeting the needs of industry. He correctly surmised that his students would have no problem finding jobs after graduation if they learned to solve the complex problems posed by power systems.
But it wasn't easy getting the ESRC off the ground. The major power companies in the state had existing relationships with other universities, and Chen was turned down many times for funding from government sources. His persistence and spirit eventually paid off, however, and over time he became one of the world's leading authorities in analysis (including real-time) in transmission, distribution, generation, and electrical service.
Chen also built an international reputation for himself and the ESRC. Since 1971, more than 100 graduate students have completed their doctoral degrees and more than 200 students have completed their master's degrees with an emphasis in power systems while working in the ESRC.
Also in 1968, Chen hosted the Transmission and Substation Design and Operation Symposium for the first time. The event, which is still held annually by UTA, attracted 1,274 attendees from 35 states and four foreign countries in 2019.
Darrell Bevelhymer, who served in multiple positions with Texas Electric Service Company throughout his career, was a young transmission systems operations engineer when he first met Chen. He led a group that handled all of the day-to-day engineering operations, looking for potential issues that could be caused by the company taking down lines or generation stations for maintenance.
One of the tools Bevelhymer used was a load flow analysis, which allows electrical engineers to simulate how power flows around a network and predict what will happen if parts of the network are removed or adjusted. Load flow analysis was a slow process at the time, but Chen devised a system that sped up the process exponentially.
“Dr. Chen came up with an ingenious method of using a matrix of ones and zeros that helped us model the transmission load flow quickly,” Bevelhymer says. “We could simulate maximum load at every substation, put on a generator that matched it, then take out every line in a system one at a time to see what effect it would have. No one else that we knew of was doing this, and we were able to find problems that the engineering department couldn't, all because of Chen's innovation.
“When you put intelligence, energy, and ethics together, you have a pretty powerful combination, and Dr. Chen was all of those things. He was on the leading edge in an area that was important but didn't have a lot of pizzazz.”
To his students, Chen was an insightful teacher who genuinely cared about them as people and who worked as hard as he could to ensure that they fully understood his course material. He regularly invited his graduate students into his home for meals and conversation, and when he would return to his office late at night to work, he often wound up instead engaging in conversations with students about their research.
“Dr. Chen's knowledge and insight in the field of power systems were astounding to me, but even more than that was his concern for his students, that they be motivated to apply themselves and achieve more than what they perhaps felt they could,” Dr. Shoults says.
Chen was well known for his sense of humor and his thick accent, and he used both to his full advantage.
“Dr. Chen often played up his less-than-perfect English skills while making a point,” remembers Jim Greer ('84 BS, Electrical Engineering), who was a member of UTA's student chapter of IEEE under Chen and is now COO of Oncor.
Fittingly, a scholarship in Chen's honor, the Dr. Mo-Shing Chen Scholarship in Power Systems, was established in 2019 to award graduate electrical engineering students with a demonstrated interest in power systems.
The impact of Professor Mo-Shing Chen's teaching can be seen in the success of his students.
“While Dr. Chen's accomplishments are extensive, I, as his student, experienced what I see as his greatest attribute as an educator. That is, his innate and outstanding ability to motivate his students. He has a unique method of presenting technical material in an exciting manner. His excitement infects everyone around him, and his enthusiasm naturally exudes to his students, who are then enabled to direct that adrenaline into a learning experience.”—Steven R. Brammer ('74 BS, '75 MS, '78 PhD, Electrical Engineering), P.E.
Owner/Partner, Brammer Companies
“Starting at virtually zero and developing a superb reputation as an educator and researcher, Dr. Chen was a pioneer in every sense of the word”
“Dr. Chen is an icon to many in his profession globally and has contributed long-lasting ideals of integrity, character, and knowledge to those he touched, which number in the thousands.”—Alexander Domijan Jr. ('86 PhD, Electrical Engineering)
Professor, Director, and Founding Dean, U.S. Dept. of Energy South Texas Industrial Assessment Center, UTRGV
“Dr. Chen's professional and distinctly unique nature was shown through energetic expressions and intellectual honesty, pursuing and aiming for high accomplishments through basic understanding of electrical engineering principles. Such distinct qualifications describe Dr. Chen as a true research leader with high international recognition and praised within electric power utilities and research centers around the globe.”—Salvador Acha-Daza ('88 PhD, Electrical Engineering)
Chief of Modernization Unit, CENACE, Mexico
Chen's achievements at UTA were many. In addition to his research and teaching activities, he received the first Edison Electric Institute Power Engineering Educator Award in 1976, became UTA's first faculty fellow (of IEEE) in 1976, and started UTA's first visiting scholar program in 1968.
The former professor is now 89 and residing in an assisted living home in Taiwan. Although his health is failing, he was able to attend the ESRC's 50th anniversary celebration in 2018 and stays in contact with its current director, Wei-Jen Lee.
Chen's impact on the field of power systems was unmatched for decades, and his students and colleagues alike speak highly of him even now, 17 years after his retirement.