Honoring a family's connection to Columbia with a gift that pays income for life
"Columbia taught me what quality education is all about."
After graduating college in 1952, Camella Chien moved to New York City to pursue a career in dietetics. An uncle who had looked after her during an earlier visit suggested to her that, since she would be in the city for at least a year, she should find herself a boyfriend.
So a couple weeks later, he arranged for Camella to attend a dance at the China Institute in Midtown. There she met several young men, though one in particular stood out. "Whenever I would dance with someone new, he would ask to cut in," recalls Camella.
His name was Omar Wing ’59SEAS, a recent graduate of M.I.T. who was working as an engineer at Bell Labs. His persistence that evening paid off. He and Camella began a courtship, and in 1953, as Camella completed her internship and began working as a dietician, they were married.
Teaching and learning
Three years later, Omar joined the faculty of the Columbia School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), where he would teach for the next thirty-seven years.
"SEAS was small compared to the state engineering schools," says Omar, "but the quality of people it attracted was amazing. Many of my students were children of immigrants—from places like Romania, Hungary, and Greece—and I related to their experience."
Omar supervised the completion of thirty PhD theses and served two terms as chairman of the Department of Electrical Engineering. He was elected to receive the Great Teacher Award of Columbia University in 1973 and the Outstanding Instructor of the Year Award of the School of Engineering and Applied Science in 1991. "Both awards meant a lot to me," he says, "but especially the one awarded by my students."
Meanwhile, Camella was becoming more engaged with Columbia as well. As a faculty spouse, she could enroll in courses free of charge and took advantage of the opportunity to pursue her lifelong love of writing.
"When I first came to the United States, I didn't speak a word of English," she says. "I was a very good writer in Chinese, but my English wasn't good enough to pursue an English literature degree—so I went into dietetics."
Camella dove into her courses, studying voice, diction, and writing. One of her short stories, "The Gold Ring," was published in Columbia's literary magazine, Quarto.
"After that, I knew I could write in my second language," she says. She has since also self-published a book, Beating the IRS Tax Squeeze, on how to survive a tax audit—something she prepared for by becoming an enrolled agent.
As Omar retired from teaching at Columbia in 1993, he went on to serve as founding dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).
"Columbia taught me what quality education is all about," says Omar, "and I set very high standards for my students. I applied those same high standards in Hong Kong, and they appreciated it."
He also developed a course there, Technology and Human Values, that he says was inspired by his experience at Columbia. "I was in engineering at Columbia, but all around me were people in the arts, humanities, and philosophy," he says. "It makes you realize that knowledge is about more than just technical knowledge. What we do with technology impacts society very much."
Inspired to give
When the Wings sold their home in the country in 2014, they wanted to invest the proceeds in something meaningful to them. They chose their alma maters.
"College is where you develop your aspirations and goals in life," says Camella. "You may not realize that benefit when you are younger, but as you grow older it becomes very clear."
At Columbia, the couple established a charitable gift annuity that will pay them income for life, with the remainder going to support scholarships and fellowships at SEAS.
"With the gift annuity we not only get great returns, but we also enjoyed a hefty tax deduction in the year of contribution," explains Camella. "Best of all, the remainder will go to support Columbia. It has been a very good investment."
Omar hopes that his former students might follow their example. "Our gift will support engineering students, particularly those of limited means," he says. "It's important that Columbia continue to attract the brightest students and offer the best research opportunities, and you do that through scholarships and fellowships."
A Columbia family
Today, the Wings' attachment to Columbia has grown even stronger—their daughter, Jeannette M. Wing, is Avanessians Director of the University's Data Science Institute. "We are, of course, very proud of Jeannette and the work she is doing to support research and apply data science for the good of society," says Omar.
"I've always considered us a Columbia family," adds Camella. "Our son and grandson also earned degrees from Columbia, so now all of us have a connection."
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