Lin Changed Career Course; It Led to HMS

Michael Lin’s career path wasn’t initially pointed in the direction of education, but his diverse professional qualifications are expected to greatly enhance his work as Huntington Middle School’s new assistant principal.
Superintendent Dr. Alex Cherniss is enthusiastic over the fact that Lin is a former engineer with a solid background in technology, holds a master’s degree in business and is fluent in Mandarin, calling him “a huge addition” to the middle school.
Lin replaces Tricia Godfrey, who resigned at the conclusion of the last school year, according to Cherniss.
Lin previously served in multiple roles in the Temple City Unified School District, including K-12 curriculum coordinator and elementary school principal. He was instrumental in the establishment of a Computer Science Roundtable and a Robotics Super Bowl, and also developed the district’s STEAM program (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics), which included computer science instruction. Coincidentally, Huntington Middle School is launching a zero period computer coding class this fall.
“I think he’s probably one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever worked with,” HMS Principal Jason Kurtenbach said. “He’s clear, concise, methodically organized, task-oriented and willing to look at things in a different perspective. He’s a true talent, and I think we really got a fantastic addition to our team here.”
Lin’s passion for education surfaces quickly in conversation, but his embrace of this field occurred when he was well into his profession.
He was working as a software engineer in New York City, several blocks north of the World Trade Center, when the planes hit the towers on 9/11. A personal connection to the tragedy really hit home.
Lin was the valedictorian of his senior class at Grover Cleveland High School in Queens. The student who had been valedictorian one year before him, Eugen Lazar, had embarked on a career arc that Lin seemed to be shadowing. Lazar received a degree in engineering at Cooper Union in Manhattan; so did Lin. Lazar was hired as a software engineer by Credit Suisse First Boston, and rose to assistant vice president; so did Lin. They went on skiing trips together. Lazar got engaged to be married; so did Lin. Lazar moved on to a vice presidency at Cantor Fitzgerald …
… and was killed in the terror attack, along with more than two-thirds of the investment bank’s employees.
“I was following in his footsteps,” Lin said quietly. “I saw myself in that situation, and it really hit me: ‘This could have been me.’
“It made me reassess my situation,” he continued. “‘What is the purpose here?’ I wouldn’t say that it defined who I am as a person, but that was a catalytic turning point in my life in terms of my career path.”
A rapid climb up the corporate ladder suddenly didn’t seem so important anymore.
He heard of a temporary position teaching middle school math at a charter school in Manhattan and decided to give it a try — at a considerable cut in pay. Lin: “I said, ‘Let me try this for half a year and see if I like this.’ There was no turning back. I found my calling. I wanted to make an impact through people; that is the purpose I found.”
A couple of years later, Lin and his young family moved to the San Gabriel Valley. He taught in Alhambra Unified before moving on to the Temple City district.
Lin advocates “character education” for students, in which adults impart positive values, largely through modeling them — “especially at the middle school level, when students are very impressionable,” he said. “This is where they establish their identities.”
He admits that he and wife, Cynthia, are getting ample opportunities to put this into practice as they raise their two daughters, ages 8 and 9.
In their home, the girls are exposed to multiple colloquial dialects of Chinese, Lin said. This is someone who speaks Mandarin, but didn’t learn it until after he came to the United States from mainland China at age 7. He spent his early childhood in Zhejiang Province, speaking the Wenzou dialect.
Lin says he looks forward to supporting and working with Principal Jason Kurtenbach, someone he praised as being “unbelievably diligent” and “very quick in responding to people’s needs.”
And, as the start of the school year draws close, it’s clear he has no regrets about that career change made in the dark shadow of 9/11. “My purpose,” he said, “is if I could help one kid in a year, that would be satisfying.”

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