More than 60 years ago, Eunice S. Wu left her home in Taiwan for the United States to study chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, following in the footsteps of her father who had graduated from Illinois.
The U of I quickly became a second home to Eunice, who was born in Beijing, China, on May 26, 1937. Her family fled to Taiwan during the civil war that broke out in China immediately after World War II. Eunice graduated from Tunghai University in Taichung in 1959 with a degree in chemistry.
Shortly after, she boarded a plane bound for the U.S. and the U of I, where her father, Jasen T.S. Su, had earned his master’s and PhD.
Eunice, who attended the U of I on a full scholarship, went on to earn her master’s degree from the Department of Chemistry in 1961.
“The University of Illinois had been our mother's first home away from home and helped her adjust to her new American life,” said Vivian Wu Wong, Eunice’s daughter, who is the chair of the history and social studies department at Milton Academy (Massachusetts).
As we celebrate Asian Pacific American heritage this month, it offers the perfect opportunity to remember and honor Eunice, whose birthday is this month, May 26. After her passing several years ago, her family established the Eunice S. Wu Memorial Scholarship in 2015. Since the 2016-17 academic year, this scholarship has been annually awarded to undergraduate Asian American women in the Department of Chemistry.
Vivian said throughout her mother’s life, she spoke fondly of her time at the U of I and had always been proud of the advanced degree that she earned.
Vivian and her siblings grew up in New Jersey, and the U of I seemed so far away to them, Vivian explained, but a few years before their mother passed away, they visited the Urbana-Champaign campus with their mother when Eunice's oldest grandson, DJ, was looking at colleges.
“You could tell that Eunice was happy to be back on campus. And it was so much fun for us to find the chemistry department where she was able to show us where she had done her lab work so many years ago,” Vivian said. “When it came time for us to honor her memory and achievements, we knew right away that we wanted to send our support to the Chemistry Department at UI Urbana-Champaign. Knowing that young Asian American women scientists are benefitting from the Eunice S. Wu Memorial Scholarship will continue to bring us joy as we remember and celebrate our mother's life.”
Eunice began her professional career working for Dr. Henry A. Lardy at the Institute for Enzyme Research in Madison, Wisconsin in 1961, then worked for Pabst Blue Ribbon in Milwaukee in 1964 as a chemist, and three years later, worked as a clinical chemist at the Montefiore Hospital outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, before she moved with her husband to Cherry Hill, N.J., in 1970 to raise their three children. Eunice supervised the Radioimmunoassay Laboratory at the Graduate Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from which she retired in 1987.
Chemistry at Illinois undergraduate student Char Ong is one of the 2019-20 recipients of the Wu scholarship.
“I feel so lucky to be a recipient of the Eunice S. Wu Memorial Scholarship,” Char said.
Outside of her chemistry schoolwork, Char volunteers at Centennial High School helping in the remedial chemistry class, serves hot meals at the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen and volunteers for a program that provides free health screenings to the uninsured. Volunteering, Char said, is very important to her, so she can give back to the communities that have given her so many opportunities, which wouldn’t be possible without this scholarship and others she has received.
“It has allowed me to continue to give back to the community and do what I love. I hope that one day I will be able to help students achieve their goals just as this scholarship has helped me,” she said.
Another scholarship recipient, Suan Lee, said as a new student, she was not expecting to receive any scholarships and was so happy to receive the Eunice S. Wu Memorial Scholarship.
“I recall that I had some sort of feeling of emptiness when I entered the university, because it felt like everything that I tried so hard during high school suddenly ended, and I needed to start everything again,” Suan said. “I was scared of moving forward to the new chapter of my life and was unsure if I could do well at the University of Illinois. However, receiving the scholarship gave me the courage and motivation to start my college career. It definitely means a lot to me, and I am really thankful for this.”