Le-Wu Lu

On coming to Lehigh

In 1955 Lehigh was heavily into research on steel structures from places like Bethlehem Steel and U.S. Steel. Cornelius "Cornie" Hulsbos, one of my structural engineering professors at Iowa State University (then College), attended a conference on plastic design at the time the modern Fritz Lab was built. He told me there were new facilities and good people at Lehigh, and I should go there.

I came to Lehigh for my Ph.D. in 1957 and switched my emphasis from geotechnical to structural engineering. Turned out that my geotech background was useful for the department because from time to time there wasn't anyone available to teach those courses.

On teaching

I sometimes liked to bring doughnuts to class for everybody when I gave an exam, so the students called me "Doughnut Professor." I also traveled frequently to attend conferences, so I earned a second name, "Road Scholar."

In my 44 years of active teaching and research I supervised or co-supervised 24 Ph.D. students from all around the world. I worked with nearly everybody in the current structures group, including John Fisher, Stephen Pessiki, Jim Ricles and Richard Sause, of those that are still here.

On the time of his academic life

I taught one semester at the Moscow Civil Engineering Institute. The opportunity came through a détente program Henry Kissinger developed during the Cold War. The program sent 10 American professors to Russia to teach; in exchange, 10 Russian professors came here. I consider this my very, very small contribution to the peace of the world and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The school had 10,000 students in one building with two entrances. Big trouble in a fire, I pointed out.

Shortly before I left Moscow a Russian newspaper writer interviewed me. He translated the text to English so I could review it. Upon my return I was interviewed again by the local newspaper, The Globe Times (now The Express-Times of Easton, Pa.) I asked if I could review that interview and was told they they don't work that way. I found that an interesting juxtaposition between an undemocratic country and a democratic one!

On mentors

My professor, Bruno Thurlimann, was a good teacher and researcher. I admired the way he taught courses and followed his teaching style.

Lynn Beedle taught me how to become American, how to communicate with people, and how to think carefully before you talk. I worked with him a long time. We started the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat and brough the International Conference on Tall Buildings to Lehigh in 1972. The event drew nearly 800 attendees.

Professionally, I was influenced by Fazlur Khan, who worked for SOM and designed The Sears Tower in Chicago (now renamed The Willis Tower) among other many famous structures. Lauren Carpenter, one of my Ph.D. students, was hired to detail the Sears Tower design, member by member.

On "retirement"

I'm one of the six principal investigators for Lehigh's Chinese Bridge Project. The project is supported by the Henry Luce Foundation. The project is now in its third year and on its second two-year grant.

My contribution was helping teach two courses on modern Chinese fiction—a hobby of mine—with Professor Constance Cook. I am also cleaning up and reorganizing a donation of more than 2,000 Chinese books at the Lehigh Library Materials Center on the Mountaintop Campus.

When I have time I read books about the history of modern China. I eventually plan to write a memoir to tell the story of my life in both China and the U.S. My book is tentatively titled, "Two Lives in One." I'm searching for a co-author. If you're interested in the job, e-mail me.