From Family to Fellowships

February 19, 2015

Grace Lau, MBA ’76, is an inspiring example of what is possible with hard work and discipline, but she also knows that “education is a game changer at all levels.”

Inspired by the support she received as a student, Grace is continuing GW’s legacy of opportunity that was the key to her success, pledging to establish the Grace Lau Endowed Fellowship at the George Washington University School of Business (GWSB). The fellowship will provide annual stipends for undergraduate or graduate business students to pursue nonprofit internship opportunities focused on education or health care for underprivileged individuals.

Her commitment to help others is nothing new—giving back has always been a priority for Grace, dating back to her days as an undergrad.

Grace Lau, MBA ’76

After finishing high school in Hong Kong, she immigrated to the U.S. with a full scholarship to study biology and chemistry at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire. Despite making just over $1 an hour as a cafeteria dishwasher, she managed to save money to send back to her family still in Hong Kong.

After graduation, she came to GW to work full-time as a lab assistant at what is now called the School of Medicine and Health Sciences. She still remembers dissecting hamster brains while helping Dr. Seymour Alpert with his project on the impact of microwaves on the brain.

Grace felt that a doctorate was necessary for a career in biology but realized that path might make it difficult to continue supporting her family overseas. So she decided to go for a master’s degree in business administration and hasn’t looked back since.

After she was accepted into the GW School of Business, Aryamehr Professor Emeritus of Multinational Management Phillip D. Grub, MBA ’60, PhD ’64, helped Grace obtain a GWSB teaching assistant fellowship, a job that afforded her the opportunity leave her position as lab assistant to concentrate on her studies. Although he passed away in 2008, Grace has never forgotten this gesture: “I am forever grateful to Dr. Grub,” she says.

With an MBA in hand, Grace began working as a financial analyst at Riggs National Bank, then moved to New York City as an analyst on the international bonds desk at Standard & Poor’s.

“There were very few women on Wall Street at that time,” she said of her time in New York. “It was a tough environment.”

And all the while, she continued to give back to support her family.

When her family decided to immigrate to the U.S., she left the East Coast to meet them in Phoenix, Arizona, where she worked for several financial institutions before launching her own business, Pacwest Financial Management, in 1997.

With Pacwest flourishing nearly two decades later, Grace still gives back, now as an active philanthropist with a passion for employing her business acumen to make a positive social impact and improve the lives of others. In addition to serving on community boards and foundations, she consistently contributed to GWSB and the Power & Promise Fund before deciding to create her own fellowship.

Thanks to the Grace Lau Endowed Fellowship, future generations of GW business students will be able to explore careers in the nonprofit sector with fewer worries about financial constraints. But, as a wealth manager, she still has sage advice to share.

“Make sure you are saving and investing and getting value for your dollars,” she says.

And what better investment than in the leaders of tomorrow: current and future GW students.

 

Fellowships like the one established by Grace Lau, MBA ’76, offer GW students important internship and career-building opportunities.