Think of the Source

In appreciation for the aid and training he received at Tufts, Thomas So is supporting a new introductory laboratory suite in the SEC.
Thomas So and Son

Thomas and Kevin So during a recent visit to Amsterdam, where Kevin lives.

There’s a Chinese proverb that Thomas So, E78, A13P, lives by: When you drink water, think of its source. It came to mind recently, when So was thinking of a phone call he got from Hong Kong when he was a sophomore at Tufts: His father’s business was struggling, and he might not be able to pay So’s tuition for the second half of the year.

Desperate, So went to the financial aid office. To his surprise and gratitude, they were able to offer him a work-study scholarship that would cover the outstanding tuition. For 20 hours a week, So manned a dorm security desk, signing in students and studying in between. “Being a foreign student, I wasn’t entitled to any kind of financial aid,” So said, “but Tufts came up with a solution to help me.”

With his entrepreneurial skills and hard work, So became sole owner of Excel Product Ltd.—a Hong Kong–based exporter of machinery and equipment manufactured in Asia—and sent his eldest son, Kevin, to Tufts. Kevin, A13, majored in economics and environmental studies and now works in Amsterdam.

Today, So is repaying the help Tufts gave him with a $1 million gift to support and name a teaching lab suite at the new Science and Engineering Complex. So’s gift is part of Brighter World: The Campaign for Tufts. He spoke at the campaign’s launch event in Hong Kong on May 31, when his gift was announced by President Monaco, and it also marked So’s 40th anniversary since graduating from Tufts.

After touring the striking new engineering building early this year, So was impressed with the upgraded, modern, interdisciplinary labs. “They mark just how far the university has come,” So said. Since last year, students in introductory biology, chemistry, and engineering have been using the new So Teaching Labs, which include a connected office, prep lab, and two large teaching labs to facilitate collaboration, and this fall, plaques commemorating So’s gift were installed at the labs’ entrances.

“I’m very proud and excited to see that Tufts has progressed so much,” So said. “And I wanted to do something to help.” So has made annual gifts to the School of Engineering and supported multiple term scholarships in the past. In addition, he has hosted factory tours for students at the Tufts-in-China study abroad program. Behind his generosity is a sense of gratitude. He has never forgotten that without his work-study scholarship, he probably would have had to leave college. “Tufts gave me the knowledge and the vision to get me to where I am today,” said So, whose son Kevin is inspired by his Tufts philanthropy.

Now, So sincerely hopes that his gift will help encourage other Tufts alumni to give—particularly those from Hong Kong. “I hope that my initiative can inspire other alumni to give Tufts the financial support to pursue cutting-edge research,” So said, “and provide a great education for present and future students.”