Yau-gene Chan is a charismatic guy, you can tell just by looking at him. He's got big ideas, going to tell you about them, and you're going to enjoy hearing about them. The fact that he was introduced to me by Dr. Kim Wan-hee, called the Godfather of the Korean electronics industry, did not hurt either.
And even though I expected to enjoy speaking with Mr. Chan, I was still surprised at the scale and detail of his idea. He's currently the Executive Vice President of International Technological University (www.itu.edu) in Sunnyvale, California, a part of the fabled Silicon Valley. His vision is to make the first truly international university in the world with the specific purpose of proliferating the latest in technology knowledge to the rest of the world.
His school is located in Silicon Valley, and the teachers and professors come from the class of informal geniuses that have changed the world for the past ten years. "One of our instructors, Dr. Cornel Porkorny, who is the head of our computer science and computer engineering department, he worked for Cal Poly. He was a tenured professor there. And he actually, when he was at Cal Poly, he would drive six hours both ways every weekend just to teach one class for us. And he did so for 15 years," Yau explained. He once asked Dr. Porkorny why he did it, and the professor replied that it was because of the flexibility of ITU's curriculum. He said that traditional universities just move too slow. To get a new course approved at Cal Poly, it takes two years of review. To start a new course at ITU, it takes two weeks. In the fast-evolving world of software development, ITU's quick acting and flexibility are necessary in order to educate each new class of programmers. This has allowed ITU to teach new programming languages such as Ruby on Rails in a structured class years before traditional universities would even consider it.
The core of ITU's vision is using the latest web technologies in its administration in order to streamline and almost altogether eliminate the bureaucracy inherent in traditional schools. Classes, schedules, professors, students, bills - every aspect of university life can be accessed and edited via the school's website. The school is currently working on accreditation with the Western Association of Schools & Colleges (WASC), which accredits Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, USC, and Caltech. The process has been immeasurably sped up by ITU's cutting-edge infrastructure, and Mr. Chan said that officials from WASC have asked if the infrastructure that the school is using can be adapted to help the WASC become more efficient as well. The school's web infrastructure even includes a fully-functioning social network similar to Facebook or MySpace for its students. But the social network also includes information about what the student learned, their strengths, and their interests, similar to a professional networking site such as LinkedIn. It is designed specifically to be a resource that the student can use for the rest of their professional life to maintain relationships and display their education and careers.
Yau is riding these latest technologies on a push to expand his university throughout Asia. He was in Korea for a week to create relationships with Korean universities here, and has since moved on to China to build relationships there as well. He spoke at length of his grandfather, General Jitang Chen, the Warlord of Guangdong Province in China in the 1930s. He said that his grandfather had a passion for education which his father shared. And he also has the same passion. He combines a Silicon Valley youthful enthusiasm and embrace of technology with his family's generational history when he says, "We're really dedicated to this thing. Its something that is part of the family value system. Its something that we do for what we think is the good of society and the world." The official goal of ITU is to become the largest university in the world within three years. One must look on in anticipation to see what they will accomplish in that time.