Won Ng’s Gift Story

Courtesy of Ng Family
From left to right: Pamela Lee, Larry Ng, Alyssa Ng, Samantha Ng, Bernard Ng, Anna Ng and Won Ng

As the saying goes, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” For alumnus Won Ng ’58, receiving an education from the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering was the opportunity that would change the trajectory of his life and inspire him to help change the lives of future UCLA Samueli students. Ultimately, Ng’s incredible journey to UCLA motivated him to endow a scholarship in 2022 with a desire to support first-generation students.

Long before graduating from UCLA with a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering in 1958, Ng grew up in the countryside in Hoiping in Guangdong province in China during World War II. Life in China at that time was very different, and he recalls not seeing a light bulb or using a flushable toilet until the age of 13. At 16 he decided to immigrate to the United States, having been encouraged to come and pursue the “American Dream” by his father, who was living in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, just one month before Ng’s arrival, his father passed away. 

Holding steadfast to his father’s advice, however, Ng persisted forward. He began high school with numerous challenges, perhaps most significantly, a language barrier. Between attending classes and working at a restaurant as a busboy, Ng fondly recalled that his teacher would dedicate hours outside of class time to helping him learn English. Displaying a propensity for math and science, he was encouraged by a school counselor to apply to UCLA.

Ng had never envisioned working outside of the restaurant industry until he had a chance to network with people from other fields. In his final year at UCLA, he took a class by a visiting professor from Hughes Aircraft Company. Impressed with Ng’s academic record, the professor — who also happened to be the Chairperson of the Hughes Scholarship Committee — recommended that he apply for a scholarship. And that opportunity led to Ng’s 30-year career with Hughes Aircraft, with him leaving only temporarily to pursue his Ph.D. in electrical engineering at USC.

Early in his career, Hughes Aircraft was at the forefront of developing lasers and in 1962 Ng was instrumental in the discovery of stimulated Raman scattering (SRS). A fundamental optical phenomenon that helps inform our understanding of light, SRS occurs where an intense laser light interacts with a material medium to generate a frequency-shifted Raman laser light. The difference in frequencies is related to the molecular vibrational or rotational characteristics of the medium.  From seeing his first lightbulb as a teenager to working on the world’s first lasers before the age of 30, Ng had an illustrious and inspirational journey, ultimately retiring as the Chief Scientist of the Laser Engineering Laboratory at Hughes.

Ng credits the foundation and connections made at UCLA for altering his life’s trajectory. He shared his story with his wife Anna and son Larry by his side, beaming as he spoke about both of his sons and granddaughter graduating from Yale — with his youngest grandchild soon to graduate from USC. Despite their different alma maters, the Ng family have built a strong community at UCLA — making UCLA football games and the annual engineering scholarship brunch a family affair.

Ng has been a generous supporter of UCLA for over 50 years. Still, his motivation behind each gift remains the same: to give back and create opportunities for the next generation of Bruin Engineers. 

If you’d like to have a discussion with a member of the UCLA Samueli fundraising team about scholarships like Ng did, please contact Alina Garza, Associate Director of Development at agarza@support.ucla.edu..