Obituary for Prof. Shen, our founding Department Head from 1991 - 1995

Professor Chih-Kang Shen, the founding Head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), passed away peacefully surrounded by his loving family on July 17 2012 at home in Davis, California, aged 79. Many of us in the Department remember, with great respect, those early days when Professor Shen was entrusted with establishing this Department. His vision, wisdom and devotion laid down the high standard and fine tradition the Department is always proud of.

Professor Shen earned his B.S, M.S. and Ph.D degrees in 1956, 1960, and 1965 from the National Taiwan University, the University of New Hampshire and the University of California at Berkeley, respectively, all in Civil Engineering. In 1967, he joined the faculty of the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of California, Davis. In his 24-year career there, he served as Assistant, Associate and Full Professor and then the Department Chair.  He trained and mentored innumerable students including many graduate students, who themselves have established highly successful careers and always regarded Professor Shen as a life-long role model.

Professor Shen retired from Davis in 1991 to join the founding faculty at HKUST and establish the Department of Civil and Structural Engineering. During his tenure as the Department Head from 1991 to 1995, he assembled a top quality faculty and shaped the Department into a highly visible academic unit envied by many Civil Engineering departments around the world. Under his leadership, a novel broad base curriculum to train future generation of civil engineers was successfully developed and followed throughout the years. As a founding member of HKUST, Professor Shen also chaired and served many important committees, including the Committee on University Governance, the Senate Research Committee and the University Academic and Substantiation Committee. Carrying his magnificent accomplishment in Hong Kong, Professor Shen retired from HKUST and returned to his home in Davis in 1998.

Professor Shen had an outstanding academic career. He spent most of his academic years investigating soil mechanics and foundation engineering and was the author of many articles in Geotechnical journals and conference proceedings. His research interests spanned a wide spectrum. In particular, his contributions in soil characterization and improvement, pavement analysis and design, reinforced earth, centrifuge modelling and geotechnical earthquake engineering are well recognized. His pioneering work with Kenneth Lee on horizontal movements related to subsidence earned him the 1970 ASCE Collingwood Prize. As a veteran in the field, Professor Shen was routinely invited as keynote speaker, guest speaker, chairperson and panellist in various international professional events. Professor Shen’s enthusiasm toward his field of study lasted throughout his life. Even less than one year before his death while he was already suffering illness, he continued to show great interest on fundamental soil mechanics issues during his discussions with a former student.

Apart from his role as an academic leader in research and education, Professor Shen also made remarkable contributions to professional services. He served many professional and technical boards. In Hong Kong specifically, he chaired the Geotechnical Division of the Hong Kong Institute of Engineers (HKIE), HKIE’s Working Party on Soil Nailing as well as the HKIE accreditation team for reviewing the Civil and related program at the HK Polytechnic University. In his rich and colourful career, Professor Shen also provided invaluable consultancy services to many key government agencies such as California Department of Transportation, California Department of Water Resources, U.S. Navel Civil Engineering Laboratory, U.S. Corp of Engineers, and Geotechnical Engineering Office of Hong Kong.
Professor Shen has left us, but we all cherish the memories of him. We will always remember Professor Shen as a person of great integrity and wisdom who founded and nurtured this department with a deep affection.

Professor Shen is survived by his wife Mamie, his daughter and son-in law, Carol Sato and her husband Mark, and two grandchildren, Matthew and Trevor Sato.  He was preceded in death by his daughter Elaine who died in 1988 following her Junior year in Materials Science at U.C. Berkeley.

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