CalTech Initiative for Students

Graduate Fellowships

Thanks a million, Caltech C Club!

Chinese students convene the Caltech C Club in 1985

When a group of Caltech students came together in 1985 to create community, their passion also sparked an idea for a graduate fellowship fund that recently surpassed the $1 million mark.

The Caltech C Club, a playful nod to the ethos promoted by the Caltech Y, is open to all but functions in part as an association for Chinese students. Over the years, more than 800 students, postdoctoral scholars, staff, and faculty members have joined the C Club, making it one of Caltech’s largest and most active organizations. In addition to being a resource for students on campus, the club helps individuals from around the world and across generations keep in touch after graduation.

In 2015, Caltech Associates member and alumnus James Zhu (MS ’91, PhD ’94) came up with an idea to expand the scope of C Club support by establishing a graduate fellowship fund. Inspired by a fellowship that enabled him to make the most of his Caltech experience, Zhu was eager to give back. A match opportunity offered by trustees Gordon (PhD ’54) and Betty Moore, which provides one additional dollar for every two donated for fellowships, presented an opportunity for Zhu to amplify his philanthropy.

Determined to raise $500,000, which would provide $750,000 in fellowship funds thanks to the Gordon and Betty Moore Graduate Fellowship Match, Zhu pitched the idea to club members Charles Fan (MS ’96, PhD ’01) and Jason Wen (MS ’85). They helped spread the word at parties and on the Chinese social media app WeChat. Dozens of alumni from around the world contributed to the fund, including David Wei (MS ’04, PhD ’07), Chao Ku (MS ’98, PhD ’99), and Caltech Associates member Yu Cao (MS ’91, PhD ’97). They joined Zhu, Fan, and Wen as anchor donors, pledging that regardless of how much others contributed, they would ensure that the $500,000 goal would be met. In 2019, C Club members surpassed their goal, then set—and met—a new target of $750,000. By March 2021, 84 households had contributed to the fund, which, combined with the Moore Match, now totals more than $1 million.

The Caltech C Fellowship provides financial assistance for graduate scholars across the Institute. Zhu and his fellow fund organizers left the decision about who will be eligible to receive the fellowship to the university, but they stated a primary preference for students focused on underfunded disciplines and a secondary preference for first-year graduate students of Chinese heritage.

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