Freeman Asian Scholars Give Back in an Imaginative Way

August 11, 2014

The Freeman Asian Scholars are known as one of the most cohesive groups on campus. They are chosen annually from eleven countries (the People's Republic of China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam), but as Su Mei Chen '01, a native of Malaysia, explains, "We come from different cultures, but we share an identity."

Freeman scholars also share a feeling of gratitude--to Wesleyan, to the late Houghton ("Buck," '43 P'77) and Doreen (Hon '03 P'77) Freeman, and to the Freeman Foundation. As an expression of thanks, FASA (the Freeman Asian Scholars Association, which includes current students and alumni) established a scholarship in 2003 that goes each year to a needy international student from outside their own eleven countries. When Buck Freeman passed away in 2010, the name of the scholarship was changed to the Houghton Freeman FASA Scholarship. It is supported by Freeman Asian Scholars alumni and parent contributions, supplemented by campus fundraising events.

"There are lots of highly intelligent students. [We appreciate] being able to participate in giving them the opportunity to come to Wesleyan," said Chen, who now works in investment banking.

Jackie Ho '07, a financial analyst, said that when he came to Wesleyan from Hong Kong, tuition and room and board cost "as much as my entire household income."

"I owe Wesleyan and the Freeman Foundation almost everything I have," he said. "A fighting chance to achieve what I have today, a world-class education, a good rewarding career, the ability to help finance the education of my younger brother, and an educated mind." The FASA scholarship is "just a continuation of the Freeman scholarships' spirit—such that those who received such a generous gift can pass on the legacy."

Mark Liew '06 from Singapore, who works in economic research, similarly explained, "My family had no resources for a university education." He described the FASA network as "a dear group," and offers that he gives to the scholarship program "because I believe in the vision and mission of Mr. Freeman, whose own generous gift transformed my life."

A compelling testament to that sentiment came from Renee Sher '07, now a post-doc in materials and energy science at Stanford, who arrived at Wesleyan from Taiwan. She described as "incredible" the experiences made possible by her Freeman scholarship, for which her mother encouraged her to apply though it would take her far from home and family. Renee continued, "In my senior year in college, my mom was fighting cancer.... I graduated half a year early so I could spend some time with her." After her mother’s death, Renee received a small inheritance and pondered for a while how best to use it. "My donation [to the FASA scholarship] comes from what my mother left me, and this is a way for me to remember her selflessness and her willingness to help others."

In the eleven years of the scholarship's existence, Freeman Asian Scholars have awarded grants to students from India, Bulgaria, Burma, Nepal, Germany, Turkey, Ghana, and Brazil. These students are encouraged to participate in social and cultural events sponsored by the Freeman Asian Scholars and, like the Freeman alumni, are an accomplished group. Among them is Turkish citizen Hazal Muhtar '14, who recently accepted a job offer from the prominent U.S. executive search and consulting firm Spencer Stuart, becoming the first new employee for whom that company has sponsored a visa.

Bulgarian student Elena Georgieva '13, currently pursuing a Ph.D. in physics at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, immersed herself in Freeman Scholar activities. She developed friendships within the group, attended all Freeman Scholar meetings, and took part in the annual Asian student shows and the Freeman senior show. "I will keep it short and sweet," she said. "Wes and FASA was the best that could happen in my life."

Freeman Asian Scholars stress the strength of their common experience and mutual support. (Describing a visit to Japan where she reached out to a fellow Freeman Scholar she hadn’t seen in years, Su Mei Chen said: "We didn’t miss a beat.") They extend their communal ties through together benefiting new students each year with the Freeman FASA scholarship.

Several alumni quoted a favorite saying: "Once a Freeman, always a Freeman."

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In 2015 the Freeman Asian Scholars Program will celebrate its 20th anniversary. Events will be scheduled throughout the year, culminating with an anniversary luncheon in Beckham Hall during Reunion & Commencement Weekend. For additional information, please contact Gina Driscoll, gdriscoll@wesleyan.edu