CalTech Initiative for Students

Co-Curricular Experience

A Champion for Student Well-Being

Mar 28, 2023

Courtney Davison


The Wei-Hwa Huang Student Support Fund will create more opportunities for Caltech students to socialize, unwind, and recharge.

Board-game designer, puzzle maker, and four-time World Puzzle Champion Wei-Hwa Huang (BS ’98) is well acquainted with the connection between rest and cognitive performance. “You can’t do your best work when you’re tired or stressed,” Huang says. “Especially for things like creativity—for coming up with new ideas or new solutions to existing problems—relaxation is necessary.”

This is one of the reasons Huang, after considering how best to support current Caltech students, decided to focus on the co-curricular experience with a $100,000 gift to endow the Wei-Hwa Huang Student Support Fund. Aimed at promoting students’ social and emotional well-being, the fund will provide resources for activities that help students de-stress, connect with peers, and have fun.

A Puzzling Passion

Huang’s fascination with puzzles and board games began in childhood. “The Atari had just come out, which was very exciting, but my parents couldn’t understand why it was so expensive,” Huang says. “So, we’d go to local garage sales, and there would be board games and card games. I loved those—all the bright colors and shapes and rules.”

He continued to explore this love as an undergraduate. In a weekly column for The California Tech, the student newspaper for which he served as a layout editor and staff writer, Huang highlighted the origins and premises of different logic games, including cross-numbers (crossword puzzles with numeric answers). In 1993, he earned a spot representing the United States in the World Puzzle Championship.

Computer science, too, intrigued Huang from a young age, and after graduating, he pursued the two passions in tandem. He spent six years as a software engineer and puzzle designer for Google. In 2008, the same year he won the National Sudoku Championship, Huang decided to go into puzzling full-time. He has since designed a variety of games and puzzles, including the critically acclaimed dice-based game Roll for the Galaxy, and co-authored a book with New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz.

Wei Hwa Huang as pictured in the 1998 BigT yearbook

Wei-Hwa Huang as pictured in the 1998 Big T yearbook

The Value of Downtime

Huang says he was motivated to establish the Wei-Hwa Huang Student Support Fund as he reflected on his time as an undergraduate. He recalls how taking breaks from his academic workload to enjoy campus social life proved crucial to his mental health. He also notes his enduring gratitude to alumni who sponsored on-campus activities and offered encouragement to him and his classmates in other, novel ways.

“There was a corner of Ricketts House that was always stocked with packets of instant ramen noodles, because an alumnus came and restocked it,” Huang says. “He did this throughout my entire time as an undergraduate. It was just a good feeling, having this reliable thing. Small gestures like that can make a big difference to students.”

Building a World-Class Student Experience

Huang’s gift helps advance the Initiative for Caltech Students, which raises funds to support students in areas ranging from scholarships and fellowships to health and wellness programming and career advising. The initiative’s aim is to ensure a student experience on par with the Institute’s research eminence.

Felicia Hunt, assistant vice president for student affairs and residential experience, appreciates the multidimensional support the Wei-Hwa Huang Student Support Fund offers. “Amidst a rigorous Caltech education, it is immensely important for students to be able to find balance and reduce potential stressors, and to have the social and emotional support they need to thrive,” Hunt says. “Mr. Huang's generous contribution touches on all of these aspects and enhances the work Caltech is doing to ensure each student has an exceptional educational experience. We are so appreciative for his generosity and creativity in bringing this unique and impactful endowed fund to life.”

For Huang, it’s a matter of passing it on. “I owe a lot to the generosity of past alums,” he says, “and I’ve always wanted to have a way of paying it forward to the current set of undergraduates.”

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