During his first semester at NJIT, Wei Wang washed dishes. He had just arrived from China and needed money, so he worked as a dishwasher in the NJIT cafeteria. It was his job to take food-encrusted plates off the conveyor belt and load them into the steaming hot dishwasher.
After a few months, the cafeteria manager learned that he knew programming and promoted him to database operator. Each morning, Wang spent four hours taking food inventory and inputting it into a database. He worked on an old computer whose screen was blindingly green.
“After four hours of staring at that screen my eyes would see red,” recalled Wang, laughing. “I had just arrived from China and I needed a job so I took the first one I could get.”
Wang had left China to pursue a Ph.D. in civil engineering at NJIT (he had earlier spent 18 months as a visiting scholar in Denmark). After his first semester, though, he got a break. He stared doing research 20 hours a week for a civil engineering professor. And he also earned a generous NJIT scholarship. He needn’t wash dishes anymore; he focused on his studies, excelled and graduated in January 1995 with a Ph.D. in civil engineering.
Wang has come a long way since his dishwasher days. Giving his career achievements, the Newark College of Engineering (NCE) recently named him an Outstanding Alumnus.
After working for a few years as a civil engineer, he founded UrbanTech, a consulting firm that focuses on structural engineering. He started the company in his basement in Edison, N.J. The firm, now based in Manhattan, is small -- Wang now has five employees -- but has completed some major bridge and building projects.
UrbanTech worked on the reconstruction of three swing bridges that connect Manhattan to the Bronx: the 145th Street, the 3rd Avenue Bridge and the Willis Avenue Bridge. The firm is now working on rehabilitating the Atlantic Viaduct in Brooklyn.
Wang, who was involved in first NJIT Steel Bridge Team, said UrbanTech just completed a replacement of two Amtrak railroad bridges in Middletown, Penn. The bridges were built off site, and transported to the site with a self-propelled modular transporter. And Wang’s employees did all this in just one weekend.
“It’s called accelerated bridge construction,” says Wang, “and it’s fun to work that fast. The railroad company only needs a single weekend of track outage. We started on Friday and the bridges were in place and open to railroad traffic by Monday morning.”
In terms of buildings, Wang is proud of the structural engineering work that UrbanTech did on the Verizon building. The building, located in lower Manhattan next to the World Trade Center site, was structurally damaged during the 9/11 attacks. In the wake of the attack, UrbanTech was hired to design temporary shoring to stabilize the building. The firm then replaced the building’s damaged columns, beams and girders.
“Verizon is an historic building that was damaged during 9/11, so that was an especially gratifying project,” says Wang.
Wang credits his professional success to his NCE education, which he characterized as “practical and hands-on” – an education that prepared him well for the real world of engineering.
In his last year at NJIT, Wang got another good break. He met a woman working on her master’s degree in civil engineering and transportation. The two are now married, and April Wang, who graduated in 1996, works as a transportation engineer for the Metropolitan Transit Authority. She is working on the Eastside Access Project, which will connect the Long Island Railroad to Grand Central Station.
“A friend introduced me to April during my last year as a grad student,” says Wang. “We are very happy together.”
He is grateful to NJIT for the support it gave him. He left China when he was 29 to study at NJIT. His English wasn’t good and he had little money.
“NJIT gave me essentially a full scholarship,” says Wang. “I would not have made it without that scholarship. I’m grateful to NJIT and the professors and staff who helped me. I feel obligated to give back, and will do anything to help NJIT.”
(By Robert Florida, Office of Strategic Communications)