To Inspire. To Be Inspired. – 30 Stories on HKUST Faculty, Alumni and Students

It’s one thing to focus on becoming a pioneer in your field; it’s quite another to figure out how to bring the next generation along with you. To get there, Prof. Rhea Liem uses empathy to empower her students to discover their own love of learning. Teachers who live and breathe their work know that engaging and inspiring students goes beyond the subject at hand. Prof. Rhea Liem’s top tip? Empathy. HKUST’s Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering doesn’t approach the curriculum as a to-do list to be ticked off; she cultivates her students’ interest and passion for the subject using an approach that is refreshingly down to earth. Fittingly, Prof. Liem turns to Newton’s Third Law — where there is action, there is reaction — to explain her methods. “That idea applies to teaching,” she says. “I’ve observed that students respond better to our teaching and mentoring when they see we really care. Our empathy really helps. We need to establish trust with our students, to show them that it’s in our best interests that they have a good learning experience.” Prof. Liem plans her lessons diligently, and actively takes further steps to facilitate how her students learn. When her students are exhausted from midterms, she’ll ease up in her lessons. She has led a project to develop a learning platform to host the programming and mathematical computations needed in 65 her Aircraft Design course, to make the complexity of aircraft design processes more accessible to undergraduate students and to help them become more comfortable with programming. In short, Prof. Liem treats her students as partners: “It is important that students feel they are acknowledged.” She believes that, when students are allowed to have a say in class, they become active and enthusiastic learners with a sense of belonging. She wants her students to feel invested in the future — and their role in it. Her passionate style of teaching and extensive interaction with students have made her not only popular but also highly respected. Prof. Liem knows first-hand the value of thinking ahead. As a teenager, she was confronted with the twin challenges of family illness and the global financial crisis. She started to think seriously about her future career, and consider which subject could play to her strengths and interests while still supporting herself and her family. In the end, she chose mechanical engineering and took up a scholarship offer at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, before continuing on to a master’s degree at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she discovered her passion for aerospace engineering.