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Making Dreams Achievable

As a first-generation student, Art Wong ’63 found his footing at Cal and beyond. Now, he supports other students so that they can do the same.

October 17, 2022
by Jackie Krentzman
Art Wong ’63 and Tiffany Grant King '04 at a Berkeley Network event Art Wong ’63 and Tiffany Grant King '04 at a Berkeley Network event / CJ Poloka
Art Wong during his time at Cal
Art Wong ’63 during his time at UC Berkeley / Courtesy of Art Wong

When Art Wong ’63 was a student at UC Berkeley he was sometimes uncertain how to navigate life at a world-class university. Wong grew up in Berkeley, the youngest of six children in an immigrant family. A first-generation student, he received scholarship funds to attend Cal, but once he got there it was sink or swim, and he felt unsure of himself.

That experience inspired Wong to create an Achievement Award Program (TAAP) endowment to support students from low-income, first-generation, underrepresented backgrounds.

“When I was at Berkeley the academic and campus life support of a scholarship like TAAP would’ve been very helpful,” says Wong, a retired emergency medical physician. “I had no clue. I never went to see an advisor or a professor, nor knew how to access any other support services that may have been available.”

“I had no clue. I never went to see an advisor or a professor, nor knew how to access any other support services that may have been available.” 

Art Wong ’63

Despite the challenges, Wong eventually found his footing at Cal, and beyond. He graduated with a degree in history, then attended George Washington Medical School in Washington D.C. He served as a physician during the Vietnam War, after which he began practicing emergency medicine in San Francisco. In 2010, he received the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) California Distinguished Service Award, which recognizes leadership and excellence.

Wong’s story began in Berkeley. His father Yuen Cham had emigrated from China and ran a grocery store in Arizona. In 1937 his father decided that his six children were becoming too Westernized and losing connection to their Chinese roots. He took the family to San Francisco with the intention of boarding a ship and moving back to China. While the family was in San Francisco, Japan invaded China and it wasn’t safe for the family to return. 

Art Wong
Once a first-generation college graduate, Wong has devoted much of his career to serving others from marginalized communities. / Courtesy of Art Wong

They settled in Berkeley, where his father then established a small grocery store. When Wong was 1½ years old his father passed away, leaving Wong’s mother, Check Seang, and her six children (all of whom later earned degrees at UC Berkeley) to run the store. As a teen, Wong attended Berkeley High, where he felt like an outsider, excluded from the mainstream of the white majority high school.

That acute awareness of being an outsider was one of the reasons he decided to practice emergency medicine. Wong liked the discipline’s egalitarian approach—everyone who came to the ER received the same care, regardless of their ability to pay.

His empathy with those from low-income, marginalized communities, and his experience as an emergency room physician, also informed his approach to giving. Wong looked for opportunities to engage with the local community. He ultimately focused on programs serving San Francisco youth. He became a founding trustee of the San Francisco Day School, chairman of the board of the Huckleberry Youth Programs, and served on the board of the San Francisco YMCA. In 2005, Wong was named YMCA of San Francisco Volunteer of the Year.

His generosity extended to UC Berkeley and the Cal Alumni Association, as he served on the executive board of the College of Letters and Science and the board of CAA’s Chinese Chapter.

“TAAP is a wonderful program. These kids are first-generation, often people of color and from immigrant families. They need our support, to achieve their dreams. And isn’t that what America is all about?”

Art Wong ’63

In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 209, prohibiting public universities from considering race, gender, or ethnicity in admissions. Immediately, the percentage of students from underrepresented communities plummeted at UC Berkeley. Wong was invited to help develop a program for under-resourced students. The outcome was the Initiative for Diversity Education and Leadership (IDEAL) scholarship. In 2012 IDEAL was folded into the nonprofit Level Playing Field Institute (LPFI). For his groundbreaking work, Wong received the LPFI Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

Wong particularly remembers one undergraduate student, a first-generation student from Mexico, raised by a single mother. This student wanted to go to medical school but initially did not have the grades. He stuck with it and eventually earned his BA from Cal. Wong wrote his reference to medical school at Michigan State, and the student is now an emergency room physician in the South Bay.

Wong eventually redirected his giving to TAAP. “I chose to set up my endowment with TAAP because it gives students not just financial support, but also academic and life skill support.”

“TAAP is a wonderful program. These kids are first-generation, often people of color and from immigrant families. They need our support, to achieve their dreams. And isn’t that what America is all about?”

Art Wong ’63 with parents and scholars at the TAAP Senior Brunch
Art Wong ’63 (seated, center) with TAAP scholars and parents at the TAAP Senior Brunch / CJ Poloka

Learn how you can support The Achievement Award Program.

Give a gift today to The Achievement Award Program (TAAP) Scholarship Fund.

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