Paying it forward: 10 scholarships matched in weeks
Grinding through problem sets. Burying yourself in the library. Pulling all-nighters.
Many Caltech alumni remember the worry and stress that came with attending one of the top academic institutions in the world. But alongside those memories are a plethora of fond ones.
One of Daniel Fu’s (BS ‘07) is attending a talk by Stephen Hawking, an exceptional experience made possible by an exceptional university.
“Caltech is unique because it's a world-class institution with high standards of excellence, but the undergraduate class is very small,” he says. “Being part of a small class size, while having the opportunity to interact with world-class professors and researchers, gives students an experience that's unparalleled at any other institution.”
Those unique experiences inspired him and his wife, Mandy, to pay it forward to a new generation of Caltech students.
“Caltech has given me opportunities that I otherwise wouldn't have had, and taught me values that are still important to me today,” Fu says. “Mandy and I think it's important to continue to give those opportunities to future generations, regardless of whether the student's family has the capacity to pay tuition and living expenses.”
After learning that a previous scholarship match program’ was exhausted, the couple decided to initiate their own–The Mandy and Daniel Fu Scholarship Match Fund. The Fus pledged $1 million if 10 donors would step up to match, and they succeeded in reaching their goal–in a matter of weeks.
Janet Lai (BS ‘91) was one of those donors. She says today she realizes just how unique her time at Caltech was.
Lai was part of a small class of students studying chemical engineering and built camaraderie with her fellow students, who shared similar “nerdy” qualities. The academic rigor of their studies was offset by piling six or seven students in a car to go out to eat at Tommy’s, waking up to “Ride of the Valkyries” during finals week, or taking fencing and modern dance classes.
Giving back was something instilled in Lai from a young age. Her parents had escaped communist China and started over with very little in Hong Kong. However, as they became more established, they gave as much as they could to help others.
“Growing up, I saw my parents fund issues that they care about, and it was inspiring,” Lai says. “It was part of my upbringing: if you are in the position to help others, let’s try to do that.”
Lai says making a gift to support scholarships was one of the best ways she could see to help others. She understands how financially challenging it is for students today to attend college and how they often experience substantial debt at a young age.
More than half of Caltech undergraduates receive need-based financial assistance, with packages typically comprising scholarships and grants, student employment, and student loans. As part of the Initiative for Caltech Students, the Institute’s goal is to raise $100 million in scholarship funds and ultimately eliminate the need for institutional loans.
It was Caltech’s long-standing commitment to ensuring the most qualified students can attend the institution, regardless of their financial means, that motivated Gary Rodriguez’s (BS ‘79) gift to the Fu Fund.
“I wouldn’t have been able to attend Caltech had I not received funding from the school,” Rodriguez says. “It was one less thing I had to worry about during that time so that I could focus more on my school work and not ‘how am I going to pay for this?’”
Rodriguez studied physics and says he struggled in school. Because he lived off campus, he didn’t have the “traditional” Caltech student experience. Yet, he wanted to ensure he shared his success with the next generation of Caltech students.
“If you’re successful, then you’ve had some sort of support along the way to that success,” Rodriguez says. “Giving back is a way to express gratitude for what you have and however you’ve come upon it.”
The fact that the Fus served as a catalyst for others’ giving was important to the couple. They wanted to maximize the impact of their gift and the other donors’ gifts as well so that students have the ability to make the most of their time at Caltech.
“I want the students helped by the Fund to pursue their intellectual curiosity and to take advantage of the unique opportunities that come from being part of a small undergraduate class in a world-class institution,” Fu says.