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Honoring a Past Generation with Support for the Next Generation

Matt Hong ('94) at Nelson Hall
Matt Hong at Nelson Hall

“It’s amazing and unimaginable, given that the college didn’t exist when I started as a student,” said Matt Hong (’94), when asked about his recent observations of the NC State Poole College of Management.

Hong, who was in the second graduating class from what is now the NC State Poole College of Management, readily admits that he didn’t come to campus “with a full head of steam,” noting that he was more interested in sports and a social life than academics, following a pretty mediocre high school record.

He turned that around during his first year on campus, saying that the advanced placement courses he had (barely) completed at Enloe Magnet High School in Raleigh “allowed me to feel that I could be successful” at NC State. And that, he said, “enabled me to establish my footing” as a college student. And establish his footing he did, as Hong eventually graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA and as the university co-valedictorian.

Developing EQ + IQ

That said, his NC State experience “was as valuable for developing my EQ (emotional intelligence) as developing my IQ. So many of my social interactions in college, including as part of Phi Delta (Phi Delta Theta fraternity), helped prepare me for my career, providing interpersonal skills and learning how to connect with people in leadership,” he said.

Hong feels that “the environment of being in a larger school helped prepare me for life. NC State was a microcosm of the real world, with people from all backgrounds. That developed me socially and emotionally for everything that came after college,” he said. Hong, who is now chief operating officer of Turner Sports in Atlanta, went on to earn his law degree from Harvard with honors in 1997.

Hong is now moving to pay it forward, to help other Poole College students by establishing an endowed scholarship in honor of his mother, Jean Shi-Chi Hong, who died in March 2014.

Consider what the college can offer over the course of the next 25 years. Where do we collectively want to be? It’s incumbent upon those of us who attended in the first 25 years to figure out how to give back.

“Academics and giving back were two things that best describe her,” Hong said of his mother, who had a master’s in organic chemistry. A good student in Taiwan, where her family had moved in 1948, she began her university studies in chemistry at National Taiwan University in Taiwan. She graduated with honors in 1961 and won a scholarship for graduate school in the United States, where she studied at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology for two years, before moving to Ann Arbor, MI to start her career as an organic chemist.

She met her husband, Donald Hong, in 1967, while he was a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan, and they married the following year. They moved to Washington, D.C., where their daughter, Cindy, was born, and then to Albany, N.Y., where Matthew (Matt) was born. Jean stayed home with the children until they were in middle school and high school, and then resumed her career as an analytical chemist for 7-Up in St. Louis, and later as an organic chemist at Union Carbide/Rhone-Poulenc, Burroughs Wellcome, and Scynexis in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

Hong said that his parents stressed academics for him and his sister, and he also notes his mother’s generosity, saying, “if she had a dime, she would give it to someone else rather than spend it on herself.”

Showing Gratitude by Giving Back

He also said that, while home on a visit from Harvard Law School, he discovered to his surprise “that Mom was contributing to the NC State Student Success Fund. She was super thankful for the impact that NC State had on my life, and her donations were a small recognition of that.”

Hong said he himself had received scholarship support throughout his later undergraduate years in Raleigh.“I pieced together enough scholarship support as an upperclassman to cover everything,” he said. That made a big difference when he arrived at Harvard, as he noted classmates in Cambridge were facing both undergraduate and graduate school loans.

“NC State was the best school that I got into,” Hong said, adding that scholarship support from the Poole College “for students who did a lot better in high school than I did” can be “a difference maker for NC State” in terms of attracting top candidates.

Hong said he sees this scholarship fund in his mom’s name as continuing the cycle that began when he received his scholarship support after arriving at NC State.

“It’s natural when we get later in life to want to give back. I think people are inherently charitable and generous, but that tends to come as they get a little older.  When my mom passed, it gave me the inspiration and incentive to start giving now. Selfishly, I get to see the fruits sooner rather than later. Starting earlier, smaller, provides a platform for continuing to give and help to build the next generation of leaders – and I hope others will do the same too.”

He also commented on the college’s 25th anniversary, celebrated during NC State’s 2017 Homecoming Weekend.

“So much has happened at the college in its first 25 years,” he said. Hong had started his college education at NC State as an undergraduate student taking business and economics courses, which then were offered through the Department of Economics in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. He wrapped up his bachelor’s degree program in the College of Management, which was established in 1992 and located in Nelson Hall. (Poole College was named in 2010, in honor of a major gift from Lonnie Poole, Jr. and his wife, Carol).

For his final two years, Hong was taking classes in Nelson Hall as it was being transformed from its original use as the College of Textiles, with large open spaces housing looms and other equipment, into a business school, with classrooms, computer labs, an auditorium and offices for faculty and administrative staff.

Reflecting on the college’s growth over the years, Hong cited the number of new degree programs, the naming of the Jenkins Graduate School, the Poole College itself and named professorships.

“It’s been an amazingly productive and successful first 25 years,” he said. “Consider what the college can offer over the course of the next 25 years. Where do we collectively want to be? It’s incumbent upon those of us who attended in the first 25 years to figure out how to give back,” he said.