A Talented Musician Discovers a Multitude of Possibilities in Engineering

A Talented Musician Discovers a Multitude of Possibilities in Engineering

With offers from several schools, student decides on Rutgers as ’best of both worlds’


Andrew Shen, a first-year student, is an extremely gifted musician who studies violin, piano, and conducting. On his own, he has picked up guitar, drums, and singing.

This past spring, he performed as both violin soloist and student conductor in the Princeton-based Stretto Youth Chamber Orchestra. And on Sunday mornings, Shen’s singing and guitar playing set an upbeat mood for worship services at the family’s Taiwanese American Fellowship Presbyterian Church in New Brunswick.

Credit: Carl Blesch
Andrew Shen
He credits his parents – a father who is a professional choir director and a mother who is a passionate pianist – with instilling in him a love of music. Yet it surprises neither family nor friends that Andrew is entering Rutgers University as an engineering student.

Shen decided that a scientific field would provide him with skills to accomplish his goals. “I want to do my part to make this world a better place,” Shen said. “I hope Rutgers can help me find that niche where I can benefit other people.”

At East Brunswick High School, Shen took an honors research class where students met monthly with Rutgers scientists at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology. And in summer of 2008, he did an internship in the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy. Shen became interested in engineering when he saw the challenges and breadth of possibilities that the field offered.

Similarly, family and friends were not surprised that Shen chose Rutgers when considering offers of admission from schools such as the University of Michigan, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Southern California. A $10,000 Scarlet Award scholarship certainly helped sway his decision. But ultimately it came down to Rutgers being a “best of both worlds” for Shen: close enough to his parents, his younger brother, and his childhood friends, while at the same time being part of a vibrant institution where he could meet new friends and pursue new opportunities.

“Life at Rutgers can be anything you want it to be,” said Shen. “You can be 15 minutes away from home but feel like you’re elsewhere.”

Shen doesn’t see his passion for music and his desire to pursue engineering as contradictory.

“Music makes me think,” Shen said. “There’s a state in which music flows that puts everything in broader perspective. Playing – using my motor senses – and knowing music theory helps me in science.”

Shen began studying music when he was 2 in a children’s program at the Westminster Conservatory in Princeton, then started playing piano and violin a few years later. His father, Victor, fondly recalls Andrew’s first foray into conducting. Andrew was 4, and living in Taiwan when he went to a choir concert that Victor conducted.

“He saw the ‘Gloria’ by Vivaldi,” said the elder Shen. “At the reception, he said he wanted to conduct it. I thought that was just childish talk, but at home, he picked up a chopstick for a baton and conducted to a CD. He had a flow, a way of communicating with the baton. He had his own way, and it worked.”

The Stretto Youth Chamber Orchestra and its director, Sherri Anderson, played a big role in his advanced musical preparation. He toured with the orchestra three times, to Chicago in 2003 and Europe in 2005 and 2007. But it is Andrew’s self-taught musical endeavors that motivate him the most now.

 “All musicians love to play for others, but we get lost in our music for hours,” he said. “I see that in my dad and his choral conducting. And I’m that way with singing and guitar.”

By enrolling in Rutgers, Shen is strengthening the family’s ties to the university. His mother, Marianne, is a business specialist in the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy. Victor conducts the Rutgers University Queens Chorale, a student-run women’s choir that dates back to 1974, shortly after women were admitted to Rutgers College.

Marianne said she was delighted when her son chose Rutgers. “Engineering is a very challenging school, but Andrew has always been like that – always challenging himself,” she said. She is also pleased that her younger son, Kevin, will have the chance to visit his big brother on campus.

Victor similarly approves his son’s choice. “My wife and I give our children guidelines. ‘Do I like this? Do I do this better than most people? Could I do it and be happy for the rest of my life?’ You can get into many things here, and you can still switch and try something else.”

While Andrew knows that engineering will keep him busy, he hopes to find musical opportunities on campus. “I’m looking forward to trying more solo vocal, or maybe joining a chamber group or putting one together,” he said. In any case, he’s confident he’ll meet other Rutgers students who share his passion for music.

Media Contact: Nicole Pride
732-932-7084, ext. 610
E-mail: npride@ur.rutgers.edu