In June of 1971, after finishing his bachelor’s degree in pure math, Joseph Liu (MMath ’72, PhD ’76) left Hong Kong to study computer science at Waterloo. He had never been to Canada or flown in a plane. And he had never seen or used a computer.

“I guess I was young and fearless,” he says. “I didn’t book much of anything in advance. I just arrived at the Toronto airport and told a car service I was going to the Computer Science Department at the University of Waterloo.”

An hour later, Joseph was dropped on Ring Road. The driver pointed to the Math and Computer building (MC). Joseph made his way to MC, carrying two suitcases and wearing two very warm, unseasonal jackets. He had no place to stay that night.


Joseph on steps

After arriving on campus, Joseph reluctantly left his belongings at the bottom of these steps before entering MC.


“I still remember, I opened the door and found Computer Science on the directory,” says Joseph. “I found the elevator, and as I moved toward it, I saw a familiar person. It was my classmate from Hong Kong. I was so happy to see him, I yelled his name!”

In a stroke of good luck, Joseph spent the night at his classmate’s apartment, and found his own place the following day.

When class started, Joseph was surprised by the knowledge his classmates had about computers. Meanwhile, he wasn’t sure what an operating system was. With support from his supervisor, Alan George, Joseph caught up with his classmates’ knowledge. He also improved his language skills and built a strong foundation for his career.


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I felt that I had to give back. It’s a privilege to do that, and I wanted to help. When I met the students – what they told me about how the scholarship has helped them – it was beyond my imagination. I didn’t realize it would make such an impact.

Joseph Liu (MMath ’72, PhD ’76)

“I really appreciated Alan,” says Joseph. “I had some trouble understanding people, and my writing was not very good. Alan was so accommodating. In the first year, I think he only understood half of what I said. But he was so engaged! He was more than a supervisor. He was my role model.”

After completing his master’s and doctoral degrees at Waterloo, Joseph became a professor at York University in Toronto. Grateful to Alan’s impact on his career, Joseph wanted to pass on the kindness that was shown to him as a Waterloo student. To give back, he created the Joseph Wai-Hung Liu Graduate Scholarship for students in the Faculty of Math.

“I’m grateful to both Waterloo and Alan,” he says. “I felt that I had to give back. It’s a privilege to do that, and I wanted to help. When I met the students – what they told me about how the scholarship has helped them – it was beyond my imagination. I didn’t realize it would make such an impact.”


Joseph and student recipients


In fact, giving has enriched Joseph’s life as well.  He’s been inspired by the scholarship recipients, he’s gained a new perspective on wealth, kindness and giving back. He hopes that his giving will allow student recipients to achieve successful careers, and give back in their own way.

"Then the world will be a better place,” says Joseph.