IEOR - Designing a More Efficient World
Celebrating Valentine’s Day with Berkeley IEOR Alums Steve Tai and KC Wu
As a mathematics and chemistry major at Indiana University Bloomington, Kin-Ching Wu, also known as KC, hadn’t initially envisioned pursuing her graduate studies at Berkeley. However, her father urged KC to stay close to her mother, who had recently immigrated from Hong Kong to California. So, she decided to apply to Berkeley almost on a whim. To her surprise, she was accepted, marking the beginning of a pivotal chapter in her academic, personal, and professional life.
Upon her arrival at Berkeley, KC was eager to build connections and was quickly introduced to Steve Tai, a fellow IEOR grad student. Steve was the first acquaintance KC made within the department. Unbeknownst to them both, this initial meeting was the first step toward a lasting journey together that would go beyond the classroom.
Their connection blossomed during an early-morning IEOR class focused on reliability. Despite the early start time of 8 am, Steve and KC would arrive well before the doors unlocked, eager to see one another and engage in conversation. Over time, this ritual evolved into a delightful post-class breakfast together. Reflecting on those days, Steve said, “Those mornings were memorable. Even though we had just met and weren’t dating yet, the beautiful weather and our conversations made those times special for me. I distinctly remember visiting a crepe place once—it was my first time trying crepes!”
Originally from Hong Kong, Steve moved to New York for his undergraduate studies at Columbia, believing New York embodied the entire U.S. This view was delightfully expanded when he relocated for his graduate studies at UC Berkeley, where he discovered the city’s stunning landscapes and rich culinary variety, crepes included. Later on in their relationship, KC would take Steve to San Francisco so that he could try sushi for the first time.
“We were on a budget, so we decided to order just six pieces of sushi. That’s when I tried sea urchin,” Steve recalled. KC was carefully observing, using this moment as her litmus test for their compatibility – if he was open to trying new foods, he passed the test. And indeed, he did!
Alongside their developing relationship, KC and Steve immersed themselves in the academic environment at Berkeley. For KC, this involved adapting to graduate life as one of the few female students in Berkeley IEOR. Fortunately, she found a mentor in Charlotte, another woman in the program, who guided her through the challenges and nuances of graduate studies.
As Steve and KC advanced in their academic pursuits, they increasingly recognized the depth offered by a degree in IEOR. KC recalled an important moment when she attended an on-campus job interview with Spectra Physics. The hiring manager was in search of three candidates to fill three positions, requiring distinct expertise in mathematics, chemistry, and industrial engineering. Astonishingly, KC possessed all these skills, leading to a job offer just a few hours after the interview. The company held the position for KC until her graduation, marking the commencement of a rewarding career. KC’s professional journey has spanned diverse domains, encompassing aerospace, defense, manufacturing, and more. She aptly noted, “IEOR offers you the versatility to work across a multitude of fields, where your skills can be applied to a wide range of industries. Chemistry has also allowed me to tie everything together.”
Steve, meanwhile, carved a path in software development and tech leadership, attributing his problem-solving approach to the operations research teachings at Berkeley.
“The ability to deconstruct complex problems into logical units and then model them accordingly has been tremendously helpful,” he said.
Their shared approach to problem-solving, honed at Berkeley, has played a significant role in their relationship and family life.
“We both like to break down problems into logical units and solve them. We’ve also always leaned towards a structured approach to life, especially when juggling work and family. Early on, with our kids, we’d coordinate: I’d manage morning duties and he’d take evenings. It’s all about striking that balance, which we’ve done without much stress.”
Their love for planning and logistics, a skill perfected in their professional lives, also enriches their family and social lives. “We’re very good planners. Whether it’s for a vacation or a party, we always talk about logistics,” KC says.
“We operate as a team, which helps in avoiding conflicts. Cooking duties are shared, and Sunday dinners with the family have become a cherished tradition, one our son continues. This teamwork and respect for tradition have been central to our life.”
Beyond their careers and family, KC and Steve’s dedication to giving back is profound. They recently established The Steve and KC Wu Family Scholarship to support students from low-income backgrounds who are historically underrepresented. This scholarship will help pave the way for a more diverse and inclusive future in engineering.
“I’m very lucky to have received a scholarship during my time at Berkeley. In a funny way, it allowed me the time to date! But on a more serious note, that generosity has really shaped my perspective,” said Steve.
Steve and KC have both dedicated significant time and effort to support their communities in a multitude of ways. Steve has generously offered his expertise to develop free software aimed at increasing data use for nonprofits. Meanwhile, KC is actively involved in a mentorship program to cultivate the next generation of Asian business leaders
Steve and KC’s journey began on Valentine’s Day in 1981, culminating in marriage in 1983. Last year marked their remarkable 40th anniversary, which they celebrated with their children and grandchildren. What began at UC Berkeley has flourished into an enduring, enchanting partnership that also serves as a testament to the transformative power of education and the enduring bonds it can create.