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February 26, 2019

Historic endowed chair takes BME student experience to new levels

Written By: Tom Ziemer


Peter Tong (MSEE ’65) wants biomedical engineering students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to gain the kind of hands-on experience and entrepreneurial mentality that will kickstart their careers.

That notion explains Tong’s longtime support of student prototype design competitions, first in the College of Engineering as a whole and, for the past 12 years, in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Now, through a major new gift to the department, Tong is opening the door to even more opportunities for biomedical engineering students to enhance their educations.

In partnership with the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, where he serves on the Board of Trustees and chaired the Board from 2014-18, Tong is endowing the Department of Biomedical Engineering’s chair position with a $3 million contribution.

It is the largest gift in the department’s history and is among a simultaneous trio of the first endowed department chair positions in the College of Engineering.

Vilas Distinguished Professor Justin Williams and longtime BME supporter Peter Tong.
Vilas Distinguished Professor Justin Williams (left) and longtime BME supporter Peter Tong.

“It’s transformative,” says Vilas Distinguished Professor Justin Williams, the first faculty member to hold the Peter Tong Chair of Biomedical Engineering. “This really is going to augment our resources so that we can more effectively pursue strategic initiatives, capitalize on emerging opportunities to give our students a world-renowned, cutting-edge education, and continue to be able to attract the best and brightest students here.”

The endowed chair provides flexible funding. Williams will leverage that support to elevate both the undergraduate and graduate educational experience by purchasing new lab equipment in emerging areas of study and adding to existing support for student design projects, travel awards and more. The endowed fund will also support the department chair’s research endeavors.

“We wanted to give the biomedical engineering department a longer-term commitment of our support,” says Tong, who, along with his wife, Janet, has funded efforts that include the Tong BME Distinguished Entrepreneur Lecturer Series and the Tong Student Leadership Auditorium in the Engineering Centers Building. “This will help Justin and it will allow a lot of flexibility and freedom to grow the department.”

Williams says the gift will allow the department to provide undergraduate students with the kinds of laboratory experiences that take their knowledge, creativity and capabilities to new levels. Those offerings could include a new optics lab where students can build microscopes from scratch, a motion-capture facility for those interested in biomechanics and human performance, and a device setup with a particular focus on neural engineering.

“We will build laboratories and outfit them with the kind of state-of-the-art equipment that most undergrads at other biomedical engineering programs would never see,” says Williams, noting that the timing of the gift is fortuitous, given the department is currently renovating a 2,500-square-foot lab on the first floor of its home in the Engineering Centers Building.

True to Tong’s belief in the design experience, the gift will also fund access to specialized instrumentation and advanced prototyping techniques, as well as provide startup expenses to students interested in developing their projects beyond the Tong BME Design Competition.

He’s excited about the department’s future, and so is Williams.

“It’s the culmination of the last 20 years of Peter working with our department to get us to where we are today,” Williams says. “And now, to take us to the next level.”