New Chinese American dean: a rebel with a cause

Dr. Teng-Kee Tan

By Ryan Pangilinan
Northwest Asian Weekly

“I have a dream to change the way,” said Dr. Teng-Kee Tan. “Whatever ‘the way’ is. … I would like to change traditional ways.”

Dressed in a tweed-styled sports coat and a checkered shirt, Tan is every bit the scholar that his ensemble would lead one to believe. His resume is impressive enough that anything can be listed and a reader would not flinch. But Tan, a former entrepreneur who is currently a professor, is flesh and blood.

Originally from Malaysia, Tan grew up in Singapore and soon became well-traveled, spending time in Canada, Chicago, as well as many other places before ultimately settling in Issaquah in 1989.

“I’m very proud to be a citizen of the Northwest, because the Northwest — especially Washington — has played a very important role in nurturing my kids, providing a  quality life here,” he said.

Tan did not set out to be an educator, but it was something that he’s had on his mind for years. For decades, Tan spent time working for several corporations including Universal Electronics Ltd., Electrolux, and Solaray. In the late 1980s, he came to Washington to strike out on his own and cited Seattle’s role as a port city to be a major factor for his move.
“I wanted to be close to the Orient because I did a lot of business with China,” he said.

Tan recalled being inspired by the self-sufficient opening of Nanyang University in Singapore during the 1950s, which also happens to be his undergraduate alma matter. The university claims to be built “by the people, for the people.”

Tan made it his goal to leave the business industry by the time he was 50 years old in order to become an educator. However, it worked out differently than he planned.

“I met with the president of [Nanyang Technological University (NTU)] and he asked me what I wanted to do after I retired. I told him, ‘I want to teach!’” said Tan jubilantly.

“When the president of the university [talked to me about teaching], I was only 48.”

Following the beginning of his tenure at NTU, Tan started on earning his Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Cambridge Tan’s experience in business has lent him credibility and an imagination for designing courses that are anything but typical. The years that Tan spent as both a businessman and an educator helped him build a course that allowed his students from Singapore to access a world outside of Asia by linking his past and current resources.

“I’m not entirely happy with today’s traditional education, including [the Master of Business Administration (MBA) program]. I think the [schools] lacks experiential learning, global immersion, and entrepreneurial leadership,” he said.
“The entrepreneurial mindset encourages people to think outside of the box, be creative, [and] take risks.”

Recently, Tan has been named the dean of the business school at the University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC), which, among his many accomplishments thus far, also affords Tan the title as the first Chinese American dean of a U.S. business school.

“I was tremendously inspired and touched by the reinventing of American values,” Tan explained. “I felt the country needs people who have global perspective.”

Under his watch, Tan will continue to use the notion of global viewpoints to help educate his students.

“What I intend to do is to link up UMKC, and I want to work with the University of Washington, and our program will take students to Stanford and to … NTU,” he said. “Whatever contacts I’ve built up in the past, I want to bring that network into America and to link the Bloch School (the UMKC business school) into this global network that I have.”

Tan’s role as the dean begins in August. ♦

Ryan Pangilinan can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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