Ying-Chu Chen ’24: A Bold Leap into Mechanical Engineering

From dancer to mechanical engineering senior, Ying-Chu Chen sets a prime example of how SMU Lyle students are engineering their futures.

Ying-Chu Chen '24


Ying-Chu Chen grew up believing she was born to dance – until a mechanical engineering class at SMU Lyle inspired her to pirouette in a different direction.

Chen grew up in Taichung, Taiwan, in a family of math majors, but was never drawn to math and science herself. To help Chen find her niche, her mom decided to enroll her in art, music, and dance classes, and in Chen’s words, dance was what stuck.

Throughout her childhood Chen practiced ballet and was interested in continuing to study dance into high school. After reading the biography of a girl who came to the U.S. for music, she felt motivated to pursue dance in America. Following her dream, Chen was accepted into Idyllwild Arts Academy in Pine Cove, California, with a scholarship to assist with room and board.

"I believed that studying dance in America would allow me to work with artists from all over the world and be exposed to many different styles of dance," Chen said. "So as an artist, I wanted this adventure to not only receive better training but also be inspired and get out of my comfort zone."

Chen packed up her things and traveled halfway across the world to attend the boarding arts-only school, leaving her family behind in Taiwan. At Idyllwild, her teachers and college-prep counselors encouraged her to learn about SMU Meadows School of Dance and apply to continue her dance training and career after high school.

"When I applied to SMU, I didn’t know much about Texas or the school," Chen said. “I applied because Meadows was one of the top dance schools in the nation and my teachers believed that I would receive a great dance education here and pursue other academic interests if I wanted to."

In March 2020, Chen found out she was accepted into SMU Meadows with the President’s Scholarship, receiving a full ride. After learning double majors are encouraged at SMU, Chen decided to take a bold leap and put down mechanical engineering as her secondary major even with an arts-focused background at Idyllwild.

— Thinking Master's in Mechanical Engineering? Think SMU Lyle.

"I figured that mechanical engineering would give me the most understanding of how everything works, all the innovations, and everything manmade," she said. "I also realized dance and mechanical engineering are similar in the way that you need to spend time to build the basics and practice the same exercises and problems that people have been doing for hundreds of years – so I took a stab at it."

Due to COVID-19 related school closures her senior year of high school, Chen had to return to Taiwan to continue her studies remotely. After graduating as valedictorian of her class at Idyllwild, Chen decided not to return to the U.S. when classes began in the fall.

"It was a scary time," she said. "My parents didn’t know what it would be like for me to travel internationally. They were concerned that I would have no family support if I had gotten sick during that time, so we decided that it was best for me to stay home during my first semester at SMU."

Through an unpredictable and challenging time, Chen stayed laser-focused on her freshman year studies – and began to realize that her bold leap into mechanical engineering was about to open new doors for her future.

"Ms. Chen was taking my class asynchronously due to the 13-hour time difference between Taiwan and Dallas," said Dr. Ali Beskok, Associate Dean for Research Innovation and Industry Partnerships, George R. Brown Chair and Professor in Mechanical Engineering. "I would meet her over Zoom every week to answer her questions and follow her progress. She followed every detail of my derivations and asked proper questions to close any gap in her mind. It is very rare to have undergraduate students who would engage with a professor at such advanced levels."

By the end of her first semester, Chen chose to solely pursue mechanical engineering instead of dance through the guidance and support of Dr. Beskok. Although the transition into mechanical engineering was not easy, her years of training in dance laid a strong foundation for success. 

"I’ve danced since I was two years old, and this was completely new to me," Chen said. "But in dance we believe if you’re not great at something, you just work hard at it and eventually you’ll master it."

To me, both dance and engineering are science and art at the same time, they are so meticulous, beautiful, and extremely challenging to master.

Without the support system of peers, professors, and the tight-knit community at SMU Lyle, Chen believes she would not have been able to make it through the program.

"I was continuously challenged at SMU Lyle," she said. "The programs, the professors, and especially the curriculum taught is not comparable to other engineering programs I have seen. Even the peers I have met are some of the smartest people I know and makes me realize I am at the right place, because I am growing in the way that I want to as an engineer."

Despite the challenges she faced, including lacking a strong foundation in math and science, Chen powered through four years in mechanical engineering at SMU Lyle, earning a GPA of 4.0., exemplifying someone who closed the gaps – and engineered her own future.

"I have kept the same motivation in my mind for the past four years," she said. "I want to be a part of the advancing technology, create new innovations that can transform people’s lives on an everyday basis, and I want to be a part of the future and the group of people that make it happen. I want to learn something new and make something new at the same time."

With an internship at Texas Instruments this summer and plans to continue her education through Lyle’s Accelerated Pathways Program, Chen is poised to make her mark in the world of mechanical engineering.

"It’s not about who you are or where you come from," she said. "It did not matter that I was an international Asian student, female, or a dancer. I worked hard and got to where I wanted to be."

Chen's advice for success includes finding work-life balance, prioritize studying, communicating with your professors, and avoiding procrastination. She also suggests getting good sleep and building healthy habits.

"Create healthy routines for yourself as a student. Get out, socialize, take your breaks – and have fun. After all, you’re only an undergraduate college student once." 


About the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering
SMU's Lyle School of Engineering thrives on innovation that transcends traditional boundaries. We strongly believe in the power of externally funded, industry-supported research to drive progress and provide exceptional students with valuable industry insights. Our mission is to lead the way in digital transformation within engineering education, all while ensuring that every student graduates as a confident leader. Founded in 1925, SMU Lyle is one of the oldest engineering schools in the Southwest, offering undergraduate and graduate programs, including master's and doctoral degrees.

About SMU 
SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in eight degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, community and the world.