Columbia Engineering Mourns Mrs. Joan C. Fu

The Columbia Engineering community mourns the loss of Mrs. Joan C. Fu, the widow of Z.Y. Fu, for whom the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science is named. Mrs. Fu passed away peacefully on October 16. Mr. and Mrs. Fu’s extraordinary generosity was transformational for Columbia Engineering School, ensuring its role as a global leader in science and technology for the 21st century.

The story below – A Gift of Uncommon Vision – was the cover story in the Fall 1997 issue of Columbia Engineering magazine.

Z. Y. Fu and then-University President George Rupp at the 1997 dedication of The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science

"I ensure that Columbia will continue to grow in strength as an international leader in science and technology,'' said Z.Y. Fu when asked why The Fu Foundation chose to give the School of Engineering and Applied Science a remarkable gift of $26 million. In a ceremony on October 22, Columbia University President George Rupp recognized that landmark gift by dedicating The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. The gift, which will be used to support students, faculty, and programs, is especially notable in that it will be provided in full by the end of the fiscal year.

Mr. Fu, an international businessman active in import-export, investments, and securities trading, was born in Shanghai to a family of 13 children. In 1951, he founded the Tokyo-based Sansiao Trading Corporation. Sansiao now operates branches in Kobe and New York in addition to its Hong Kong subsidiary, San Tsin Trading Corporation.

For more than three decades, Mr. Fu has had a connection to the School through his brother-in-law, Chia-Kun Chu, professor of applied mathematics. Prof. Chu is director of the division of applied mathematics and has been in charge of the University-wide Committee on Applied Mathematics since 1978. 

The gift to name the School, which President Rupp hailed as "transforming,'' is only the latest in a series of significant contributions that Mr. Fu has made to Columbia. His first gift was in celebration of his 70th birthday in 1990. According to Prof. Chu, as Mr. Fu approached his birthday, he felt it was time to do "a philanthropic deed.''

"That is when he asked me, 'What is a chair?' "As a result of that conversation, Mr. Fu decided to endow The Fu Foundation Chair in Applied Mathematics, which Prof. Chu now holds.

A year later, Mr. Fu decided to improve his English skills by enrolling in a class at Columbia's School of General Studies. While attending class with students, some of whom were a half-century his junior, he "had lots of fun and liked it enormously," according to Prof. Chu.

Following this personal contact with students, The Fu Foundation in 1993 established a scholarship program that each year supports a total of 24 students of Chinese descent, with the awards being divided between Columbia College and the Engineering School.

This year's Fu Foundation Scholars include students from China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan. Mr. Fu takes a personal interest in his scholarship students and invites them each year for dinner.

In acknowledging The Fu Foundation's most recent gift, President Rupp said, "We are sincerely grateful to Mr. Fu for his uncommon vision and for his recognition that, in supporting the best people, he will help create more opportunity for truly enlightened and world changing discoveries.'' President Rupp said that Mr. Fu has helped to ensure that Columbia's School of Engineering and Applied Science will play a leading role in the 21st century.

The endowment created in support of The Fu Foundation School has been earmarked to support interdisciplinary clusters of faculty and students. Dean Zvi Galil hailed the gift as one that will bring Columbia into the top ranks of engineering schools. "These resources will, for the first time, allow us to compete with the best for the best,'' he said.

The initial areas targeted for support are: computer science, where current research focuses on such areas as automated vision environments, parallel computing, digital libraries, robotics, and natural language processing; biomedical engineering, an evolving discipline with collaboration among engineers, physicians, and scientists to provide insights into medical conditions and concerns, from orthopedic and musculoskeletal biomechanics to developing artificial organs and cardiovascular prostheses; applied mathematics, which supports research in such fields as theory and application of dynamic systems and in large-scale computation, including global climate modeling; and electrical engineering, in which researchers are helping to meet the challenge of providing faster and more sophisticated methods of handling information. 

The School has been increasingly focused on interdisciplinary endeavors and this gift will enable the engineering faculty to connect with the departments of physics, chemistry, earth sciences, and mathematics, as well as other divisions of the University, such as the medical school, the Graduate School of Journalism, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Teachers College. As envisioned by President Rupp, Mr. Fu's gift will spur new scientific discoveries and the School will attain greater global prominence by virtue of the fruits of new collaborative research and teaching. . . and "will develop a new generation of scientists and engineers to carry forward excellence in discovery and invention in the coming decades."

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