Pioneering Engineer Tells Class of 2016 to be Open to New Opportunities

by Dave Cranshaw
UNH Today Editor

As a child, Ming Hsieh, a Chinese-born engineer and entrepreneur, and his family were forced to leave their home city to move to a remote village with no electricity.

“After that, I didn’t have much of a formal education for the next 10 years,” he said during his Commencement address to graduates of the College of Business and the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences.

He told the Class of 2016 that he learned to make the best of what was less than an ideal situation. His mother, a former high school literature teacher, taught Hsieh and his brother under candlelight with books she was able to acquire. His father, an electrical engineer, persuaded the local authorities to permit him to bring electricity to the village of about 100 families.

(L-R) Shelley Stewart '90 EMBA, Board Chair Phil Bartels, President Steve Kaplan, Herb Chambers and Ming Hsieh

“I was his only full-time helper,” he said. “I worked hard day and night, cutting trees, digging holes, climbing the poles, stringing the wires and installing the transformers, and we were able to bring power to the village. The electricity extended our lives.”

Video by Matt Scripter '14

By the end of the Cultural Revolution, Hsieh was able to enroll in college and eventually came to the United States, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He went on to create Cogent, Inc. a software company that revolutionized automated fingerprint identification that was acquired by a Fortune 100 company. Five years ago, he started Fulgent Diagnostics, which focuses on cancer drug research.

His success, though, did not come without obstacles. Soon after starting Cogent, the company was bidding on a $50 million job with the FBI to create its next-generation fingerprint identification system. “We were almost certain we were going to win the job, but in the end we lost,” he said.

The company was able to regroup to secure a contract with the Department of Homeland Security. “The important part is how you respond to failure or to an obstacle in front of you that will show you what kind of person you are,” he said.

He also shared a Chinese proverb to encourage the Class of 2016 to be receptive to the many options they will have throughout their careers, regardless if it is the path they intended to follow.

“Plant flowers with care, and they may never grow,” he said. “However, plant a bunch of willows carelessly, and they may yield a pleasant shade.

“In other words, despite your best efforts to plan whatever career you would like, things may not always turn out as expected, or it might fail. However, your next opportunity might come from somewhere you least expect it. The important part is that you have to be prepared to accept it.”

As part of Commencement, Hsieh was awarded an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree. Additionally, Shelley Stewart ’90 EMBA, vice president of sourcing and logistics and chief procurement officer at DuPont, and Herb Chambers, president of The Herb Chambers Companies, which comprises 56 automobile dealerships representing 35 franchises in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, were both presented honorary Doctor of Business Administration degrees.

“I believe you really have to find your passion, but, most importantly, you have to put your heart and soul into whatever it is that you are going to do,” said Chambers.

Meghan Fogerty ’16 M.S., president of the Graduate Forensic Science Club, encouraged the graduates to embrace the feeling of uncertainty that comes with not knowing what might come next.

“Because of the experiences we have gained here at UNH, we know everything is going to work out and that we can make that uncertainty our friend again,” she said. 

John Houllahan, president of the Class of 2016, told his classmates that he hoped their time at UNH helped them find their true purpose.

“Take your ambitions and, as my father always told me, pursue your passion,” he said. “We must allow our ambitions and our happiness to become our guide.”

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