Malaysian Fulbright Scholar Brings Family to Study in Worcester

Contact: Arlie Corday, WPI Media & Community Relations

WORCESTER, Mass. - Lee Peng Tan, winner of a prestigious Fulbright fellowship award, has come to Worcester Polytechnic Institute to learn and share what she knows with members of the Social Science and Policy Studies Department. Her focus is on the effects of free trade in her native Malaysia. As a bonus, she has brought her daughters, ages 21 and 8, to enjoy the American experience with her. The family arrived in December and will stay through the first week of April.

Daughter Vei Lin Lau has been a visiting scholar in WPI's chemistry department, gaining valuable insight into the workings of a U.S. research laboratory. Lau says the experience will help her prepare for upcoming Ph.D. research at Monash University in Australia. Eight-year-old Yun Feng attends Lakeview School in Shrewsbury, Mass., enjoying American classroom activities - and finding out how real life in the United States compares with what she's seen on television.

At WPI, Tan is specifically working on system dynamics, a simulation methodology that analyzes problems using feedback loops. System dynamics is capable of incorporating interactions between society and state policies.

Tan earned a bachelor's degree in economics and a Ph.D. in operations research and economics from the University of Malaya in between an M.S. in operations research at the London School of Economics and Political Science. An associate professor in business and accountancy at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, she teaches courses in management science, production and operations management, quality management and strategic management.

At WPI, she recently gave a presentation titled "Dynamic Impacts of Trade Liberalization on Developing Countries: A System Dynamics Simulation Analysis." Tan shared information about how liberalized trade agreements impact Malaysia, a newly industrialized country. Economic growth, she noted, has strained local resources, despite overall improvement in labor productivity.

Tan found that a strong economy is only one indication of quality of life. To illustrate, she produced a system dynamics model based on a variety of factors: pollution, resource allocation, wages, productivity and more. One of her graphs showed a quality of life indicator fluctuating wildly, reflecting highly unstable conditions. Among the reasons are depletion of resources and increasing pollution.

"Everyone from residents to tourists wants a clean environment and comfortable living, even in a developing country," Tan said. She hopes her work will encourage policy makers to design plans that facilitate economic development without depleting natural resources.

Tan found the Fulbright award a good match for two goals: learning more about her field and more about America. Having research contacts with American professors in college and graduate school, she was impressed with their teaching and research methods and sought firsthand experience at a U.S. university.

During her stay at WPI, she is taking two courses in system dynamics: Advanced System Dynamics Modeling with Khalid Saeed, head of the Social Science and Policy Studies Department, and a course at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Besides gaining a better understanding of system dynamics, she is particularly impressed with the extensive use of information technology in conducting courses at WPI.

Tan is among the first participants in WPI's Social Science and Policy Studies Department's new visiting scholars program in system dynamics. Selected scholars collaborate with WPI faculty on research in social and business policy using behavioral modeling and computer simulation. The program complements the department's initiative in developing a new degree program in system dynamics.

Tan is among a recent influx of Fulbright scholars associated with WPI. Graduate student Thomas Wollinger of Germany is currently studying as a Fulbright scholar in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department while Konstantin A. Lurie of WPI's Department of Mathematical Sciences recently completed a Fulbright fellowship at Technical University of Denmark. Yet another WPI faculty member is weighing a Fulbright opportunity.

For more than 50 years, the Fulbright Program has been recognized as the flagship program in international education exchange. It is sponsored and funded by the U.S. Information Agency and participating governments and host institutions in the United States and abroad. WPI, founded in 1865, is renowned for its project-based curriculum. Under the WPI Plan, students integrate classroom studies with research projects conducted on campus and around the world.