A first-time donation of $3.5 million by alumnus Henry Wu will help support the construction of the Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship (CEIE).

Posted on June 29, 2015

In recognition of the gift, and in honour of Wu’s late father who was an instrumental figure in Hong Kong’s business landscape, the top floor of the CEIE will be named the Dr. Woo Hon Fai Innovation Floor. It will house conference rooms, a terrace and new spaces for the Institute for Sustainable Energy (ISE) and the Institute for Water Innovation (IWI).

“We are profoundly grateful for Henry Wu’s generous gift, which will help position U of T Engineering as a leader in global water innovation and sustainable energy research,” said Dean Cristina Amon. “First-time gifts to the Faculty at this level signal the deep pride our alumni feel in being a part of our community and their confidence in our world-class researchers. Mr. Wu’s commitment to the CEIE serves as a tremendous example to his fellow alumni and will enable us to address some of the world’s greatest challenges.”

The IWI will be a focal point for research and industry collaboration in water sustainability, treatment and management. Led by the Departments of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry, Civil Engineering, and Materials Science and Engineering, researchers at the IWI will also collaborate with the Lassonde Institute of Mining, the Pulp and Paper Centre and the Drinking Water Research Group.

The ISE will be an inclusive, multidisciplinary institute with a goal to increase energy efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of energy use and conversion. It will bring together researchers, students and teachers from across the University, along with partners from industry and government.

Wu, who is the executive director at Lee Cheong Gold Dealers Ltd., is also actively engaged in public service in Hong Kong. He is the honourary president of the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs Association of Hong Kong, an organization he has served since 1989, and the president of the Hong Kong Elite Athletes Association.

U of T Engineering’s Jamie Hunter recently spoke with Wu about his longstanding connection to U of T Engineering.

Your $3.5-million gift towards the CEIE is incredibly generous. What inspired you to give back to your alma mater at this time?

The $3.5 million gift is a first for me. It was much more than all of my previous donations to other organizations and charities. The simple matter is that I wanted to support U of T, in particular the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, in moving forward and staying ahead of the competition. I’m glad that I can help.

Looking back, I was able to apply what I had learned during my undergraduate and master’s degrees in engineering to another role in finance. It was a good training experience for me and I really appreciate what I was taught. This is only a token of appreciation to the Faculty and the University for giving me the chance to learn and for making me a better person.

My donation also gives me an opportunity to commemorate my late father, who passed away in 1985. He gave me the support, both financially and spiritually, during what I call the ‘difficult years’ of study. It was a hard time and his support was really important to me.

You graduated from U of T with a degree in engineering science and a master’s degree in chemical engineering, specializing in nuclear energy. So why did you decide to support water innovation and research?

When I first looked into supporting the University in 2012, I wasn’t aware of all of the different centres and institutes. The one that I was most familiar with was the Institute for Sustainable Energy. Obviously, that was more aligned to what I had been trained for when I was studying at U of T Engineering. But afterwards, I discovered the Institute for Water Innovation. And this is another area that I think is very important and I was really happy to provide my support.

I care about water sustainability. I have visited the remote mountainous regions in China to help them out, and I have experienced first-hand how difficult it is for them to access water. U of T is doing a great thing, and I’m happy to support water innovation research.

Were you involved in the engineering community when you attended U of T?

Unfortunately, I was not. At the time, I had to work a few part-time jobs. Every week, I’d work in the computer centre or the library. And of course, I had my studies. But I also had to do laundry, grocery shopping and housework. I didn’t live in a dorm. I had to live away from campus by myself. And I didn’t come from a well-off family, so I had to basically support myself—especially during my senior years—and work full-time during the summer months. I didn’t have the time to involve myself in the engineering community. But I tried to take part as much as possible to celebrate with the others at more significant Skule™ events.

How do you see your relationship with U of T Engineering continuing to evolve in the next few years?

There must be other ways for me to be involved once the CEIE opens—and alumni outreach has really improved. We actually have regular visits in Hong Kong and around the world with faculty and staff from U of T Engineering. And we’ve developed a much closer relationship. I’m looking forward to future communications about the institutes and centres at U of T Engineering to see what kind of research they are doing.

What does “giving back” mean to you?

There’s an old Chinese saying that literally means: ‘When you drink water, remember the spring.’ Giving back is part of the culture I was raised in. It’s about showing appreciation for what one has been provided.

There is no limit to giving back—it’s boundless. It could very well be a simple ‘thank you’ or a smile. That’s what I was taught in growing up. It could also be in the form of a donation or volunteering your services. Giving back is never too big or too small, and it applies to all ages.