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Michael and Alice Chen

A Planned Gift Honors Generations Past and Benefits Generations to Come

Champions for Education

Michael and Alice Chen
Michael and Alice Chen

Dr. Michael Graham Chen (BS ’58, MD ’62) and Alice Louie Chen’s (AB ’58, AM ’60) family legacy at the University of Michigan spans two continents and six generations. It began when Michael’s grandfather left China after the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 to study law at U-M with Professor J.B. Waite. Following in his footsteps, Michael’s father, Dr. Graham Mien Chen (MS ’25, ScD ’30), came to the United States to pursue a PhD in chemistry at U-M. (Later, he went on to earn an MD from the University of Chicago.) Michael was born in China but was evacuated to Hawaii with his mother, Martha Choy Chen (ABEd ’28, TeachCert ’28, AM ’29, AM ’63), and sister Marcia Chen Langmack (MS ’57) during the Second Sino-Japanese War of 1937. They were raised in Detroit, where Michael attended Cass Technical High School. He enrolled at U-M to study chemistry and eventually attend medical school. It was there that he met fellow undergraduate Alice Louie, who had grown up in Cleveland, Ohio.

Alice was a member of Pi Beta Phi and was active in campus government. She was also passionate about mathematics—particularly the teaching of mathematics—and was greatly influenced by Professor Joseph Neal Payne in the School of Education. Following her bachelor’s degree, Alice taught mathematics at Tappan Junior High School in Ann Arbor. Later, she pursued her master’s degree in mathematics at the Rackham Graduate School.

In her last years in Ann Arbor, Alice worked closely with Payne at what was then the University School—the preK-12 school housed in what is today the Marsal School. She taught undergraduate education students and co-edited several algebra and geometry textbooks. At the time, recalls Alice, the United States was desperately trying to catch up with the Soviets in the areas of science and technology. One effort was to encourage high school and middle school mathematics teachers to learn and teach the “new math” through seminars and math labs on subjects such as number theory, set theory, and the new geometry. This was an effort to which Alice, along with Payne and her teacher colleagues, devoted considerable time and focus. Although this would be her last position at U-M, the training she received paved the way for the rest of her career.

When the Chens moved to Brooklyn, New York for Michael’s internship at Kings County Medical Center, Alice taught at Edgemont High School in Scarsdale. During his military service at the Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, Alice taught math at the University of Hawaii (Manoa). In 1969, Michael earned a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. His subsequent residencies and professorships took their family to Oak Ridge, Tennessee; ​​Palo Alto, California; and New Haven, Connecticut, before settling in Rochester, Minnesota where he worked at the Mayo Clinic until his retirement in 2002. Throughout that time, Alice developed math labs in her children’s elementary schools and worked in programming at IBM, where she created word-processing programs for the writers of technical manuals.

All three of Michael’s sisters attended U-M. So, too, did Michael and Alice’s aunts, nieces, nephews, and cousins. Their daughter Laura Kim Chen (AB ’87) studied French at the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. (Their son Jonathan Michael Chen pursued his education and medical training at Yale University and Columbia University, respectively.) Their granddaughter Camilla Kate Lizundia (AB ’20, AM ’22) is the sixth generation to carry on the family tradition, recently graduating with a master’s degree from the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

This multigenerational legacy inspired the Chens—who are now in their eighties—to make a planned gift from their estate to the university that has provided an educational foundation for so many members of their family. All three funds that the gift has created are endowed, ensuring that they will be invested and thus able to provide support to U-M students in perpetuity.  

“We thought it was a very good concept to support people that really need the money when they need the money,” says Michael.

At the Marsal Family School of Education, the Alice Louie Chen Education Scholarship Fund will support undergraduate and graduate students who are pursuing their teacher certification and intend to become secondary math teachers, or those who plan to be practitioners of secondary education in another STEM field.

“We have always recognized the central role of mathematics in all scientific and technical endeavors,” says Alice. “We believe there is a need for trained mathematics educators at all levels. Funds to encourage teachers specializing in teaching this discipline will enhance our society in many ways. We are very heartened by the Marsal Family School of Education’s current efforts to train the teachers and professors of tomorrow and by the continued excellence of its faculty.”

In addition to their planned gift, the Chens have committed to making cash gifts to their new endowed scholarship fund over the coming years and, in doing so, will take advantage of Marsal Education's recently launched Empowering Educators Scholarship Matching Initiative. To incentivize long-term endowed support of education students while also accounting for the school's immediate student support needs, particularly for students interested in teaching, Marsal Education is currently matching 1:2 (50 percent) for all endowed scholarship gifts of $25,000 or greater. In the Chens' case, the program will maximize the impact of their generous support.

Another part of their gift will honor Michael’s father, who was the first in a long line of Chens to graduate with a degree from U-M. The Graham Mien Chen Scholarship Fund at LSA will be used to provide need-based scholarship support to undergraduate students, with a focus on students majoring in chemistry. The Graham Mien Chen Graduate Student Support Fund at LSA will provide support to graduate students.

“The science of chemistry in all its forms has always been central to the physical and biological sciences,” says Michael. “The University of Michigan’s Department of Chemistry is a cornerstone of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. It was an important start to my father Dr. Graham Mien Chen’s career in pharmacology, and to my professional journey in medicine. Our family has had generations of association with the university, which continues today. We would like to continue that tradition for others, particularly those beginning with a foundation in chemistry and moving on to careers in chemistry or other related disciplines.”

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Champions for Education