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Photo for Donors Gene and Sharon Chang

Gene and Sharon Chang. (Photo courtesy of the Changs.)

Donors Gene and Sharon Chang share their enthusiasm for PKU-UCLA Joint Research Institute


A recent $1 million gift by the Changs will enable UCLA students to conduct research in science and engineering at Peking University.


UCLA International institute, February 27, 2020 — The Peking University (PKU)–UCLA Joint Research Institute in Science and Engineering is thrilled to announce a generous $1 million gift from supporters Gene and Sharon Chang. Received as part of the Centennial Campaign for UCLA that ended December 31, 2019, the gift will expand an existing scholarship endowment.

Half of the total gift will go directly to fund scholarships for UCLA students attending the PKU–UCLA Joint Research Institute’s Summer Research Program. Because of the scholarship component, the gift triggered an additional $250,000 contribution for scholarship support from the UCLA Chancellor’s Centennial Scholarships Matching Fund. The other half of the Changs’ gift will provide support for administration of the program.

The gift expands the Gene and Sharon Chang Centennial Scholars Fund for Summer Research in China, which the Changs established in 2019 with an earlier gift of $75,000. The latest contribution significantly increases the number of summer scholarships that the institute can award — from three to 10 each year. The couple had also made a previous donation specifically for such scholarships.

“My wife Sharon and I are thrilled to be able to create a robust source of funding for JRI Summer Research Program scholarships,” says Gene Chang.

“As a graduate of PKU, I know the stellar quality of its faculty and research labs. We are delighted that UCLA students will be able to participate in this unique program,” he adds.

“I am grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Chang for their most recent gift to the PKU-UCLA Joint Research Institute,” said Cindy Fan, vice provost for international studies and global engagement. “Their generosity will make it possible for more UCLA students to acquire valuable international experience.”

“We deeply appreciate Mr. and Mrs. Chang’s contribution, which allows us to support more UCLA students to enrich their global education experience through this exciting summer research opportunity at PKU,” says Jason Cong, co-director of the PKU-UCLA Joint Research Institute (JRI), distinguished chancellor’s professor and professor of computer science at UCLA.


JRI Summer Research Program students from UCLA at the Temple of Heaven in Peking (Beijing). summer 2019.
From left: Hee Joon Choi , Jasmine Chen, Wendell Kirkman , Sarah Hong , Rachelle Stark  and Nazanin Ghetmiri  (Photo: JRI.)

Support for an immersive research experience in China

Students in the JRI Summer Research Program are placed in a Peking University laboratory, where each works on a research project of interest under the mentorship of a PKU faculty member while taking Chinese classes. Since 2010, a total of 125 UCLA students have participated in the program.

The three-month program has earned high marks from the undergraduate and graduate students who have participated. In a recent survey by the institute, some 85% ranked it as their top or among their top experiences at UCLA.

“Not only will these students come away with hands-on research experience in a Chinese academic research environment,” comments Gene Chang, “but with a deep experience of Chinese culture.”

An appreciative alumnus of Peking University, where he studied atmospheric physics, Gene has served as chairman of the Peking University Alumni Association of Washington and was a member of the board of directors of PKU’s Global Alumni Association. He is also a past president of the PKU Alumni Association of Southern California.

Gene and Sharon Chang came to the United States in the 1990s. Gene went on to complete a second B.A. (in physics and computer engineering) at the University of San Francisco, followed by an M.B.A. at Columbia University.

It was while living in Diamond Bar, California, that the Changs first learned about the UCLA-PKU Joint Research Institute. “I was invited by JRI Co-Director Professor Jason Cong, another PKU alumnus, to attend two of the symposiums of the institute,” explains Gene.

“I was very impressed by the cutting-edge research work presented by the students on edge computing, AI, nanotechnology and medical sciences. Their presentation were very creative and inspiring!” he relates.

“When we heard Professor Cong speak about the idea of creating an endowment for JRI, we really wanted to help,” continues Gene.

It’s clear that Gene Chang’s affiliations with the University of California and his respect for UCLA also played a part in the couple’s decision to support the PKU-UCLA Joint Research Institute.

“As a UC Berkeley alumnus and longtime resident of Southern California, I truly believe that UCLA’s innovative research and top-rated research faculty and facilities will be an eye-opening research experience for the Peking University students,” remarks Sharon Chang.

Not to mention the couple’s personal experience with UCLA, where their son attended camp for two summers.

“Both times were a great experience for our son,” says Gene Chang, who has since relocated to Seattle with his family. “Through these learning opportunities, we developed a great respect for UCLA and that’s why we fully supported Jason Cong’s desire to fund the JRI program.”