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 during his sophomore year at Tufts in the 1970s. 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 twenty 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.”

Portrait of Thomas So and his son, Kevin

Thomas So, E78, A13P, and son Kevin, A13, photographed in Amsterdam, where Kevin lives. (Photo: Courtesy of Thomas So)

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, 2018, when his gift was announced by Tufts President Anthony P. Monaco. Last year also marked the fortieth anniversary of So’s graduation from Tufts.

After touring the striking new engineering building earlier in 2018, So was impressed with the upgraded, modern, interdisciplinary labs. “They mark just how far the university has come,” he said. “I’m very proud and excited to see that Tufts has progressed so much. And I wanted to do something to help.”

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—since 2017, and plaques commemorating So’s gift have been installed at the labs’ entrances.

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 in 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.”

Monica Jimenez

Monica Jimenez, editor of One Tufts and Tufts Magazine's Connect section and writer at Tufts, can be reached at monica.jimenez@tufts.edu.