(Virtual) Coffee with Eugene Li, Mechatronics Engineer-in-Training in the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering

April 23, 2020

Part of a series of coffee chats interviewing MME staff and Faculty.

Eugene Li practicing martial arts.

Kind, giving, wise and methodically content are the descriptors that emanate from Eugene Li when you first meet him. You know those people who you just want to be near because they have this soothing energy and quiet wisdom that seems to help regulate your own energy?  That’s Eugene.

He doesn’t struggle with what-ifs. He is content with his life. 

If you believe in nature vs. nurture, it is clear that at the age of four, Eugene Li, was already on his ancestral DNA career path. At four, Li would wake-up at 6:30 am to build Meccano and models - something that would lead him into engineering.  After acceptance into University of Waterloo’s Engineering program, he learned that many older cousins took engineering (at Waterloo) before him.  “What would you do if not engineering?” I asked.  His genuine response, “Nothing else. It fits me well and I enjoy doing it. I am content.”

He is self-aware and even when he was busy doing his engineering undergrad, a decade ago, he made a clear decision to make the time to learn something he was interested in, despite the workload he faced ahead of him.  Martial arts.  Enjoyed discipline, as Sensei, the arts made him have an appreciation for the mechanics of how his body worked and aware of his surroundings and where he is in relation to the rest of the world.  He said it calms and grounds him. Black belts in both, he teaches karate and Ju-Jitsu at the University and also for the City of Waterloo four days a week - he is the head instructor. He is currently mastering Judo too. When he’s not teaching martial arts, he is training the other three. I didn’t ask, “what if there was an eighth day of the week”, because he doesn’t live in what-ifs.

Creating a path for himself, in terms of his career, his hobby, it would make sense that he would find his wife at the dojo, during his undergrad, as well. Alison Shaw did her undergrad at University of Waterloo too – in English and Fine Arts and enjoys a career doing graphic design and fitness instruction. You can hear him beam widely when he talks about three things, his wife, martial arts, and his spoiled cat, uncharacteristically named, “Kitty Smalls” – a reference to hip hop artist, Biggie Smalls. It begged the question, and Li said she came with the name and knew it well, so they kept it.

Musically, he doesn’t have one genre he listens to and music doesn’t appear to play a big part in his life, which makes sense, but he listens to Lord Huron, an American folk/rock artist, who’s biggest hit, The Night We Met became popular after being featured on the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why. He also listens to Run River North, an LA-based band. Li laughs and says his music collection primarily comes from his sisters who send him songs.

Growing up in Mississauga, as the middle child, he has two sisters, and a Dad who worked in IT and Mom who worked in accounts payable. His sisters both have interesting careers.  The eldest, Yvonne, successfully works in sports advertising after studying Drama and Art History at Queens and the University of Toronto and working at an Art Auction House and the youngest sister, Annette, works as a librarian for kids TV shows. Most of his family lives in Toronto.

Heavily involved in Tron and Capstone, I asked him what he was most proud of in his career, and like the humble person he is, he said, “I am very fortunate to work with Carol Hulls (MME Continuing Lecturer).  Working with her to design courses and helping students learn has been an amazing experience.  She does the heavy lifting.”

Eugene Li’s pearl of wisdom is, “we make our own marker for success, if you want to be super-wealthy that is one marker, but I prefer being a good person who gives back to be my marker for success (and he lives by it, clearly) – it helps life be a lot more pleasant."

In the words of Sir Terry Pratchett, Li’s favourite Author, “Learning had to be digested. You didn't just have to know, you have to comprehend.” Eugene’s life path chose him and intertwined he chose it.  We are honoured to have him as a Mechatronics Engineer-in-Training and to sit near him to absorb his calm energy.

Virtual Coffee Chats are a series of chats focused on learning about the people in the MME department and include faculty and staff.

Virtual Coffee with Gordon Stubley

For over 35 years Gordon Stubley has been teaching and doing research in Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and engineering fluid mechanics.  He is a Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering at University of Waterloo.