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‘He was great’: Friends remember assistant professor Shengpan Lin

September 20, 2018
<p>Shengpan Lin, left, is pictured on a boat with MSU Professor Jan Stevenson. <strong>Photo courtesy of Ashton Shortridge.</strong></p>

Shengpan Lin, left, is pictured on a boat with MSU Professor Jan Stevenson. Photo courtesy of Ashton Shortridge.

Shengpan Lin, an assistant professor in the Social Science Data Analytics Initiative at MSU, died Sept. 2 in a vehicle crash near Uncle John’s Cider Mill in Clinton County. 

Lin, 37, received his doctoral degree from MSU in 2017. During his time studying and working at the university, Lin met colleagues who would eventually become his close friends. Several of them talked about the impact Lin had on their lives. 

Remembering Lin

Lin visited the cider mill during the Labor Day holiday weekend, according to an email from Alan F. Arbogast, the chairperson of MSU’s Department of Geography, Environment and Spatial Sciences.

“While at the stop sign to enter (U.S.) 127, a northbound RV blew a tire and the driver lost control of the vehicle,” Arbogast said in the email. “The RV collided with Shengpan’s car and he, very sadly, passed at the scene.”

Lin was a kind friend and a bright student in the eyes of many people, according to his friends and colleagues. Ashton Shortridge, a professor in the Department of Geography, met Lin in China in 2012.

“It was obviously a terrible shock when he died,” Shortridge said.

Shortridge encountered Lin while he was teaching at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, where Lin had studied for his first graduate degree.

“He was great,” Shortridge said. “I was there with my family and he spent a lot of time to make sure that my kids, my wife and I were comfortable and felt supported.”

Lin decided to work toward earning a second graduate degree at MSU and began attending the university in fall 2012.

“I was not on his Ph.D committee, but I met with him and chatted about life here. After he graduated last year, I worked with him. He was associate director for me of the Social Science Data Analytics Initiative,” Shortridge said. 

Shortridge said Lin was a people person who enjoyed bringing people together. 

“He was great at his job here with me the last year, in terms of getting people from across campus to get together to learn more about analysis methods to study problems,” Shortridge said.


Memorial service

Lin’s family is in China, which makes Lin’s memorial service complicated to plan.

“The date depends on when some of his family from China can make it over,” Shortridge said. “So we’re kind of waiting to see when that comes.”

Lin was from Guangxi, China, a region where Cantonese is spoken. His family only speaks Cantonese in their daily life, so Lin’s friends are looking for translators to help his family be able to attend his memorial service.

Yingyue Liu is one of those friends. She knew Lin from their work and research together in MSU's Center for Global Change and Earth Observations.

“If I can find somebody who came from the same province or even the same country as them, they might feel better,” Liu said. “Now we reached 32 students and they are very ready to help them when they arrive.”

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Out of respect for cultural tradition, a group of Lin’s close friends are fundraising to move his body back to China. 

Maowei Liang, another friend, is trying to organize a way of getting Lin back to his family. Total costs to do so range from about $5,000 to $15,000.

But donations have been coming in, Liang said.

“We got a donation in 24 hours for over $10,000,” Liang said. “We didn’t expect, in less than 24 hours, we would get a donation from people who really care about our friends to help us a lot,” Liang said. 

The Chinese Students and Scholars Association is using their large follower base to assist the family through the process. They’re hoping to solve the language barrier issue by the time Lin’s family arrives.

“The outpouring from the community has been tremendous,” Shortridge said. “I have heard from so many people who I didn’t even know had a connection with Shengpan, but he made a difference in their lives and that’s been really amazing.”


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