Friday, April 19, 2019

Two of the country's first three petroleum engineering graduates were Chinese, and were the first Chinese students to graduate from Pitt.

In January 1915, the Pitt Weekly noted that the first graduating class of its Petroleum Engineering degree would contain two American and two Chinese students (though that year's commencement program shows only one of the Americans earned his degree).

Melican Chinese laundries and Chinese chop suey restaurants are common objects in our city life, and on most any corner we see the familiar sign 'Wa Lee Yee, Laundry" but did you ever stop to think that we will be soon buying our oil and gasoline from real Chinese pretroleum [sic] engineers?

Pitt has taken the lead in producing Chinese Knights of the oil can, and will, unless the unexpected happens, graduate two sons of the oriental country with the degree of petroleum engineer in June. This will be the first time for any university in the United States to offer the degree, so the men taking it will have a notable distinction.

The students who expect to take the degree of petroleum engineer are F.A. Johnson, Ben Avon, Pa; George W. Myers, Pittsburgh; Barin Ye Long, Changtu, China, and Chun Young Chan, Canton, China.
Long, whose name had been spelled Barin and Barrin without much regularity, also earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering in 1916. A May 1922 issue of Pitt Weekly notes that both students had returned to China. If that 1922 piece is to believed, these two were the first Chinese graduates from the University of Pittsburgh.

A 1916 alumni directory listed ten graduates in China: eight from China and two others in China, including that 1915 graduate Frederick Arthur Johnson, who had found work at a Standard Oil Company branch in Changsha. Johnson died in 1960 at the age of 69, and newspapers noted he was the first to earn the petroleum engineering degree four decades earlier, without mention of the two Chinese classmates.

Via 1915's The Owl yearbook.

Though Long and Chan were the first graduates, they were not the first Chinese students at Pitt. The first Chinese student at Pitt was Ye Beh Lieng (連弊), who entered in 1912-1913 and was in the same class as Long and Chan. There is a good deal of information about Lieng via a website called "Boxer Indemnity Scholars;" the entry on Lieng reads, in part:
In late May of 1915, Y. B. Lieng showed up at the Office of the Commissioner of Seattle, Washington, unannounced, to purchase passage to China via Vancouver and to request a return certificate to the US. The Commissioner immediately wrote to the Pittsburgh Immigration Office for any information about this man. The letter was rerouted to Philadelphia, and the Commissioner of Immigration there began an investigation. On 10 June 1915, he returned his findings; he had spoken to the dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Mines and gotten Y. B. Lieng’s full story.

The dean, a Mr. Heller, stated that Y. B. Lieng had approached him a few weeks ago with bad news; his mother was seriously ill and he had received a letter begging him to come home at once. He had money for the journey and his travel was even arranged by “Chinese Government officials in Washington, D. C., he being a Government student.” The issue was his final exams for the Spring 1915 semester. He had failed two of his courses and so he wouldn’t be able to graduate on time. Mr. Heller believed that “while he was planning to visit China this summer anyhow… he departed at this time, partly at least because he was ashamed to remain here and witness his classmates graduate without his being one of their number.” Y. B. Lieng and the dean agreed that the failing classes would be made up in the fall of 1915, so Y. B. Lieng needed a return certificate before leaving the US so that he would be able to re-enter the US to do so.

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