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Why They Give: TAAP Donors Bob and Sheryl Wong

August 13, 2019

“These kids are amazing. They’re just terrific students, and they’re given this opportunity, and they’re taking advantage of it.” —Bob Wong ’68

Sheryl and Bob Wong are among the earliest benefactors of The Achievement Award Program (TAAP), their gifts dating back to the program’s inception in 1999. The reason for their sustained and generous commitment is simple—they understand how it is significantly more challenging to both afford a Cal education and navigate the campus today than it was when they were undergrads here in the 1960s.

“I think when we were here, the fees, were at $36 a semester,” says Bob Wong ’68. “A college education is much more expensive nowadays.”

Bob also acknowledges that TAAP’s benefits extend well beyond the financial support—another factor in their giving. “I understand the needs of these scholars,” he says. “Like many TAAP Scholars, my parents didn’t go to college, so I had no clue as to what college was like.”

Sheryl ’67, C.Mult. ’68 had parents who graduated from college—in fact, they met at Cal. Part of her rationale for supporting TAAP is to give students the leg up she had with two college-educated parents.

“Today, there are lots more stressors for students,” says Sheryl, who met Bob at a Cal fraternity party. “For example, lots of kids have to work, are living at home supporting their families, or they live long distances and commute—all things that were not in my experience as a college student.”

Sheryl grew up in Boston as her father, an engineer, worked in a radar lab at MIT during World War II. Her parents maintained their Cal connections, eventually bestowing an annual need-based scholarship to a senior engineering student. “That was the beginning of our family giving back to Berkeley,” she says. “UC Berkeley philanthropy became a family tradition.”

After graduating with an architecture degree from the School of Environmental Design, Bob embarked on a long and fruitful career, designing buildings as diverse as a shopping center, houses, and ski resorts. Now retired, Bob is concentrating on his philanthropy. He serves on the board of the International House and currently is advising on the renovation of Alumni House, which houses the Cal Alumni Association.

Sheryl graduated with an English degree, then earned her teaching certificate. She worked as a public-school teacher until their children were born. She has long been active in volunteerism and philanthropy at Cal and throughout the Bay Area. She served as a docent at the Oakland Museum for almost 30 years, and has been a significant fundraiser for libraries on the Cal campus, a UC Berkeley Foundation Trustee, and a leader on several university capital campaigns. Recently, she was named board chair of the San Francisco Foundation. For their generosity to Cal, the Wongs earned a place on the Builders of Berkeley monument, which honors the vision, leadership, and commitment of the university’s leading benefactors since its founding in 1868.

Bob and Sheryl Wong with Chancellor Carol Christ.
Bob and Sheryl Wong with Chancellor Carol Christ. Image courtesy of Bob and Sheryl Wong

The Wongs initially became involved with TAAP when Bob co-chaired the class of 1968’s 30th reunion. The class was selecting units on campus to support together, and after it heard the Cal Alumni Association’s presentation on the TAAP program, the class chose to make a donation. A few years later, the Wongs endowed their own TAAP scholarship.

Sheryl says TAAP is important to her because of her experience as a teacher in low-income public schools.

“I taught in a school where many of the kids got free lunch and a subsidized breakfast,” Sheryl says. “Many of these students would not go on to college [if it weren’t for programs like TAAP]. The opportunity, the access that Berkeley provides for students is tremendous. It makes me very proud that because of TAAP, so many students at Berkeley were the first in their family to go to college.”

“I can never go to one of these TAAP dinners or lunches without a lot of Kleenex, because the stories are just so amazing.” —Sheryl Wong ’67

The Wongs say they are particularly impressed that so many TAAP Scholars prioritize giving back to the community.

“Many of the TAAP students aren’t just here for themselves—many of them are going on to pursue careers that are going to help their communities. I find that so moving,” Sheryl says. “I can never go to one of these TAAP dinners or lunches without a lot of Kleenex, because the stories are just so amazing. These students have overcome multiple obstacles and go on to do so much.”

As TAAP enters its third decade, the Wongs say it will continue to be a major component of their Cal philanthropy—and they encourage other members of the Cal Alumni Association to consider supporting the program as well.

Bob and Sheryl Wong with one of their Alumni Scholars.
Bob and Sheryl Wong with one of their Alumni Scholars. Image by Katherine Fiordalis | Cal Alumni Association

“I hope that everyone will feel as though they can give back to TAAP in some way,” says Sheryl. “Maybe if they don’t have the financial means, they could be a mentor for a TAAP Scholar. It’s such an important and terrific program and being part of it is so fulfilling.”