$5 million gift to establish new Center for Taiwan Studies at UC San Diego

Longtime campus supporters Chiu-Shan Chen Ph.D. ’69 and Rufina Chen have committed $5 million to the University of California San Diego, one of the largest individual gifts to the Division of Arts and Humanities.

Contributing to the Campaign for UC San Diego, this gift will establish a new Center for Taiwan Studies within the division, and highlights the alum’s deep commitment to both giving back, and supporting programs that expand cultural understanding of Taiwan and Taiwanese Americans.

“UC San Diego is internationally recognized for its expertise in Asia and the Americas, with a unique focus on the intersection of science, technology, art and policy,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “As the global economy enters into the ‘Pacific Era,’ our diverse community of students and scholars from around the world is keenly interested in studying the history, culture and impact of the region. Chiu-Shan Chen’s generous gift will help UC San Diego further expand its distinctive prominence in Pacific Rim studies.”

The Center for Taiwan Studies will be under the leadership of Department of Literature professor Ping-hui Liao, the inaugural Chuan Lyu Endowed Chair in Taiwan Studies in the Division of Arts and Humanities. The $5 million commitment will create an endowment over time that will provide a sustainable platform to grow comprehensive collaboration and exchange between the U.S. and Taiwan, coordinate the university’s Taiwan-centered projects for greater visibility, and offer grant support to faculty and graduate students in their research.

“In a lot of ways, this will be dynamic and I hope that we can bring in Taiwanese experiences to shed new light that will help focus for the future, to be more informed and knowledgeable about each other,” Liao said, an alum who received his Ph.D. in 1987. “Our goal is to encourage, not only in terms of institutional collaboration, but inviting more and more of our students to study in Taiwan, and more research and collaboration with Taiwan.”

Liao said he hopes the center’s program will help raise awareness of important social issues that impact Taiwan like coral reef protection, climate change and green energy, as well as all the ways Taiwanese Americans contribute to society. The new center will also expand the Taiwanese-American oral history project initially funded by the TAH Foundation.

Interdisciplinary collaboration

Division of Arts and Humanities Dean and Chancellor’s Associates Chair in Italian Literature Cristina Della Coletta said the Chens are helping to elevate UC San Diego as a hub for cultural and academic collaboration. The division is home to the Institute of Arts and Humanities, which includes 15 interdisciplinary academic programs in regional, ethnic and thematic studies.

“Not only will the new Center for Taiwan Studies help coordinate efforts to increase current student engagement, but we anticipate having this unique focus will be beneficial in recruiting world-class scholars of Taiwan and Taiwanese-American studies,” Della Coletta said. “The Division of Arts and Humanities provides students and scholars the tools to develop and advance both empathy and critical thinking, and we are grateful for the Chens’ thoughtful commitment.”

With Liao as founding director of the new center, a steering committee made up of current faculty members has been established. Honorary members include Shu Chien, a pioneering bioengineer retired from the Jacobs School of Engineering, and Ming T. Tsuang, Lewis Judd Endowed Chair in Behavioral Genomics and Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine. Tsuang helped initiate the first Taiwan Studies program on campus with Charles Tu, a retired electrical engineering professor and associate dean of the Jacobs School of Engineering.

Additional members include Ronald Burton, Distinguished Professor of Marine Biology at Scripps Institution of Oceanography; Nancy Guy, professor in the Department of Music; Ken Loh, professor and vice chair of the Department of Structural Engineering; Lei Ni, professor and former chair of the Department of Mathematics; Victor Shih, Ho Miu Lam Chair in China and Pacific Relations at the School of Global Policy and Strategy; and Paul Yu, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Provost of Revelle College.

“The new center is a way to talk to each other from across disciplines, and students are better off when they can work with different disciplines and world views. The center will bring them together in more formalized ways,” Liao said. “This is very important, as the world is moving toward integration, and that leads to innovation.”

The chance to give back

The Chens’ commitment to advancing cultural awareness and study of Taiwan is well established at UC San Diego and the region. Chen is a founding and active member of the Taiwanese American Foundation of San Diego, serving as chair in 1997. The foundation and the Chens helped to establish an endowed Taiwan Studies Lecture Series in 2006, part of the university’s Taiwan Studies program.

An immigrant from Taiwan, Chiu-Shan Chen came to the United States in 1962 to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Nevada, Reno. Chen said he chose the Reno campus because a professor there had held a Fulbright fellowship in Taiwan years before, and the academic was the only scholarly contact Chen knew.

“Of course, there were a lot of foreigners in the 1960s, and when we first came everyone was very helpful and welcoming. I always will remember them,” Chen said. The UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering alum cares deeply about Taiwan, and about giving back to those that helped him in his life.

Chen received his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering in 1969, and then immediately took a postdoctoral position in Manchester, England. An established physicist and entrepreneur, Chen has co-founded San Diego-based companies Pacific Biotech, Inc. in 1982 and Wyntek Diagnostics, Inc. in 1994.

While his career took him to many parts of the world, he found comfort and a sense of home in Southern California, where he now lives with his wife, Rufina Chen. What has never been lost, however, is his connection to Taiwan.

“If I give back now, I can somehow connect to my homeland. That’s really the greatest thing to do,” he said. “So many people have helped me in my life. So when I have the chance to give back, I will.”

Chiu-Shan Chen said much as has changed, of course, from when he first came to the U.S. He wasn’t able to travel back and forth between countries, and not everyone who wanted to come to the U.S. could. His family didn’t travel with him, and he said they were both worried and proud.

“I’m always grateful, because I’ve been so lucky in my life,” he said. “If someone helped me, I want to help others. It’s a chain reaction.”

Philanthropic gifts, like this from the Chens, contribute to the Campaign for UC San Diego—a university-wide comprehensive fundraising effort concluding in 2022. Alongside UC San Diego’s philanthropic partners, the university is continuing its nontraditional path toward revolutionary ideas, unexpected answers, lifesaving discoveries and planet-changing impact. Visit the Division of Arts and Humanities website to learn more and support.


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