Those who were close to Haibo Zhang, a graduate student in the Sonny Astani Department of Civil Engineering, say he will be remembered for his passion for learning and adventurous spirit. The 24-year-old student drowned on March 17 while vacationing in Hawaii.
Zhang, a native of Xilinhaote, China, was planning to graduate in May with a master’s degree in civil engineering (transportation engineering) and a graduate certificate in transportation systems, according to a memorandum sent to graduate students and faculty by Kelly Goulis, senior associate dean at the Viterbi School of Engineering.
Zhang’s academic advisor and professor of industrial and systems engineering, James Moore, said Zhang characterized the ideal USC student.
“He was exactly [the] kind of student we like to have,” Moore said. “He was motivated, hard-working, intelligent and had a very positive, happy attitude. He’ll be missed, he had an impact here.”
Prior to attending USC, Zhang attended the Inner Mongolia University of Technology and graduated with a degree in transportation engineering. Zhang’s parents visited USC’s campus last week, and Viterbi faculty and students had a chance to meet with them, an opportunity Moore said he was grateful to have.
“It made us all feel closer to him,” Moore said.
Zhang demonstrated his eagerness to learn both inside and outside of the classroom. He frequently attended presentations by the Women’s Transportation Seminar, which was an excellent opportunity to connect to professors and employers in the transportation industry, Moore said.
Zhang’s friend and classmate Nicholas Lowe said Zhang showed a similar eagerness to learn about U.S. culture. Lowe said he will remember Zhang fondly for his sense of adventure and curiosity.
“He was always willing to go out and try new things he had never experienced before,” Lowe said. “Some of the international students are not like that, but he was willing to go out there and explore.”
Lowe recalled that the pair would explore areas of Los Angeles such as Chinatown and downtown, and also enjoyed playing mahjong together.
Additionally, Lowe said that Zhang was a great person to work with in the classroom, and that he made important contributions to the group projects they worked on together.
“He always wanted to do more than was expected of him and his calculations were always very thorough and done on time,” Lowe said. “He always asked questions about assignments to make sure everything was clear because he was so eager to learn.”
One of Zhang’s instructors, Eric Shen, a professor of civil and environmental engineering in Viterbi, witnessed Zhang’s eagerness to learn in his class. CA 585: “Traffic Engineering and Control.” In the class of less than 10 students, Shen said that Zhang’s strong desire to improve his English stood out.
“His reports would get a lot of red marks and grammatical corrections — because his English wasn’t that good — but he would often come to me and ask for advice and suggestions because he … was not embarrassed,” Shen said. “That struck me that he was really willing to learn. I felt that he would really go places because he was fearless.”