As a child in East Asia, he loved Origami. Today, he uses it as part of his research. Folding paper into complex shapes helps researchers use the principles of geometry to envision new materials and structures.

Meet Suyi Li.

Title: Assistant professor

Years at Clemson: 3

What I do at Clemson: Being a teacher, my role here is to grow students academically. That involves both teaching undergraduate classes in mechanical engineering and mentoring graduate student researchers. This is the joy of my job: Through lectures, my undergrad students have a chance to explore automatic control for the first time, and through research, my graduate students have a chance to engineer a better world.

What I love about Clemson: It’s a growing and diverse university in a friendly, quiet town. I grew up in the populous east coast of China, so Clemson is a very quiet place (for me, even Atlanta is a just a medium-sized city). When I first joined Clemson, I had a hard time adjusting to this place. But soon, I realized that I can focus on what I am doing without many distractions, yet still enjoy the diverse environment, thanks to the university.

My defining moment at Clemson: When some of my undergraduate students told me that they decided to change their career paths because of my class, and when my graduate students (almost) won the Best Student Paper award in an academic conference.

Accomplishment I’m most proud of: Winning a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation, which is the most prestigious award NSF gives to young faculty. This gives me a confirmation that I am qualified to financially and intellectually support my students.

Where I see myself in five years: Hopefully my face will look old enough in five years so that people will not think I am a graduate student anymore. Right now, I have to dress up very nicely for lectures to make myself look older.

Last thing I watched on TV:  I don’t own a TV. I guess that makes me a real geek, but super productive. My wife and I do watch TV episodes online once a while, when our baby girl is asleep. Modern Family and Big Bang Theory are our favorites.

Guilty pleasure: I love browsing online to check the latest consumer technologies. Other than teaching and research, I can also give very informed advice about which cell phone and laptop to buy.  After realizing that I spent way too much time on websites like and, I had to set up a blocker in my browser to control myself.

One thing most people don’t know about me: At the end of high school, I seriously considered majoring in archaeology.  I loved history. This is probably because my hometown of Suzhou is a 2,500 year-old ancient city.  I still love history. Each day, I browse through the On This Day section of the English and Chinese Wikipedia website. Of course, my father, very concerned that I would end up “digging earth and made little money,” asked me to choose a different major.  That is how I became an engineer – I think he is right!

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