Remembering Professor Seung P. Li

Written by David K. Li

Long-time San Dimas resident and retired Cal Poly Pomona engineering professor Seung P. Li died on Wednesday, following a long illness, loved ones said.

The 86-year-old Li passed away at Citrus Valley Hospice in West Covina from respiratory failure due to pneumonia.

Seung Li and his wife Viva Li. (Courtesy of David K. Li)

Li retired from CPP in 2002 and enjoyed an active retirement life until his final three months.

His favorite activities included playing mahjong, practicing Chinese calligraphy and reading newspapers – both the printed Los Angeles Times and online Chinese language publications, so he could stay plugged in to news back in the old country.

Though he wasn’t a devoted fan of any particular team, Li enjoyed watching sports on TV. Up until falling ill around Thanksgiving, he made a daily habit of clipping the sports radio-TV listing from the L.A. Times and keeping it by his favorite chair to know exactly when games were scheduled.

The professor graduated from the University of Hong Kong in 1954 before coming to the United States for graduate school. He received his master’s degree in civil engineering at Princeton University in 1960 and a doctorate in physics from the University of Colorado Boulder in 1966.

Li was a well-regarded professor at prestigious Chung Chi College in Hong Kong and was on the fast track at that school, when large-scale, pro-communist riots broke out in the then-British colony throughout 1967.

“There was a lot of instability in Hong Kong, and I thought there could be a better life, a more stable life, in the United States,” he recalled recently.

Li and wife Viva packed up their young family and headed to America, where he had secured a teaching position at Sweet Briar College in Virginia in early 1968.

While Li was in transit to Virginia, funding for the teaching spot dried up — a surprising turn of events he only learned when the family made a pit stop in Southern California.

But that California stop proved fortuitous for Li and CPP. The expanding campus was looking to hire, and the school snapped up the suddenly unemployed professor.

He joined the faculty at fledgling California State Polytechnic College, Kellogg Campus, in fall 1968 — four years before full university status was granted to what is now CPP.

He taught semiconductor theory and researched semiconductors at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The well-liked professor also held titles of graduate coordinator for the department’s master’s program and director of graduate studies for the College of Engineering.

His textbook for the course “Engineering 515: Matrix Methods in Engineering” is still part of the master’s curriculum today.

He’s survived by his wife of 60 years Viva, sons Mark, Thomas and David, granddaughters Allison and Lauren, grandson Brian and daughters-in-law Mai Li, Sophia Loh and Candice Choi.

Li was preceded in death by his sister Jean Pun in London and brother George Li in Hong Kong — where his sister Ring Chiu and brother Sassuan Li still reside.

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