Wu Jianhong was born a genius, admitted to China’s Hunan University at age 15 and earned his doctoral degree in dynamical systems and math eight years later. Wu’s now one of six Canadian immigrants to win the 2008 New Pioneers Awards, and is a recipient of the Science and Technology Award.
One of the earlier generations of Chinese scientists scooped up by the West, Wu faced the biggest challenge of his life when he became a post-doctoral fellow at Memphis University in 1987 and was given a roomful of college students to teach — in English. ”I was afraid,” confessed Wu, who spent three years in Tennessee and later was at the University of Alberta before accepting a tenure position at York University. “Half of my class left and dropped out,” recalled the now 43-year-old math professor. “It was very painful because I wanted to be a good teacher.”
To improve his speaking and listening ability in English, Wu stepped out of his shell and ventured out to interact with local people whenever he could to practise the language and learn the new culture.
Leading a national team of scientists from universities, public health research institutes and government agencies, Wu has worked on modelling and qualitative analysis on disease prediction, infection control, and intervention and prevention — from SARS to pandemic influenza to West Nile virus.
Despite his stellar research accomplishments that have translated into four major books and 140 papers, Wu said he is most proud of his job as an educator.
“The English language wasn’t the most challenging part, but teaching what you knew to students from different backgrounds was,” noted Wu.