Teik Lim is kicking off his first fall as president of New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark. The ninth leader of the lauded polytechnical research university and the first president of color to lead the institution, Lim, 57, a mechanical engineer, is a renowned scholar and educator. He is of Chinese descent, and grew up in Malaysia, where he endured racism as an ethnic minority. He hopes to use his position to ensure that NJIT is welcoming to students of all backgrounds. He also wants to create a strong technological and physical infrastructure at the school and help it adapt to the digital revolution.
Can you talk about representation and the significance of being the first Asian-American president of NJIT?
In all my time in higher ed, I have championed diversity, equity and inclusion. Diversity is a strength that helps our academics and research flourish. Having a person of color to be president here for the first time is very significant. This school has a diverse student population and employees, and in terms of representation, [my appointment] shows the commitment of this institution.
You grew up in Malaysia as an ethnic minority. Can you talk about the racism you experienced?
I came to this country 40 years ago to get an education and to be free from the racism, bigotry and inequity I endured for most of my teenage life. I’m forever grateful to my adopted country. In high school, I was beaten and called names daily. They told me to go back to China, even though I was born in Malaysia. When I graduated, I applied for a scholarship to attend college there, but was told I didn’t qualify because of my ethnicity. For nearly 20 years, I would wake up at night with nightmares, screaming. Then I traveled to Malaysia and visited my high school, and after that, the nightmares were gone.
How does that experience inform your leadership at the helm of one of the most diverse public colleges in the state, with students of color comprising 60% of enrollment?
I learned to forgive and forget and to use that experience to champion equity and belonging, because I know how important that is. I hope I can play a part in helping every student at NJIT find their dream, without the experiences that I had.
What are the main challenges you’re facing at NJIT?
The challenge is to keep going on the college’s amazing trajectory, to further the rise of NJIT, and to become a preeminent public polytechnic research university in the country and globally. We need to embrace the use of digital technology in everything we do and use it to enhance learning.
What are some of your goals as the new president of NJIT?
Higher education is in the midst of a digital revolution. For NJIT to excel, we must create a technological and physical infrastructure so that our core enterprises are unbound by space or time. We must also assure that NJIT is accessible to students of all backgrounds and is a truly welcoming and inclusive community where everyone is respected and can be successful.