New Support for Students in Social Work and the Arts, in Honor of Veronica Siu-Fun Pun Choy (MSW’58)

May 28, 2021 @ 3:36 pm
By Communications Office

The Choy Family Gift funds new scholarships at the School of Social Work and the School of the Arts.

Columbia University has announced a gift from Louis Choy, MD, and Janice Chan-Choy to support students at the Columbia School of Social Work and Columbia University School of the Arts.

One half of the gift will add to the existing Veronica Siu-Fun Pun Choy ’58 Scholarship at the School of Social Work. Named in honor of Dr. Choy’s mother, a distinguished alumna of the Columbia School of Social Work and a leading figure in the establishment of the social work profession in Hong Kong, the Choy Scholarship provides need-based support for MSW students.

According to Dr. Choy:

My mother attended Columbia’s School of Social Work when the field was still rather nascent in Hong Kong. After completing her Columbia education, she returned and influenced a generation of leaders in the field. This gift is designed to help students continue her unflagging commitment to social work and service.

“It can be difficult to ask people to support the arts because there always seems to be a more essential cause like hunger,” said his wife, Mrs. Chan-Choy, a patron of the arts who serves on the Dean’s Council at the School of the Arts. “But I ask, what would the world be like without color? That is how essential art should be to all of us. It is the soul and fabric of our society.”

Having an impact on the social work profession in Hong Kong

Hong Kong in the 1950s was surging. Immigrants and refugees from mainland China flocked to the city after World War II. Within a few years, the population leapt from 600,000 to 2.1 million, turning Hong Kong into one of the densest cities in the world. Growing up with sisters who became nurses and teachers, Veronica Siu-Fun Pun Choy, became preoccupied with the idea that the city’s welfare services needed to catch up.

“Service was in the family. The line of social work suits my personality,” she said. But in Hong Kong the field of social work was young, and Hong Kong University did not yet offer the education that she felt would be needed to make a difference.

So Choy traveled by ship to New York City. The journey took a month, and shortly after her arrival she found herself in a Columbia School of Social Work classroom, preparing for fieldwork in Manhattan and Staten Island.

Choy was particularly impressed by Professor Lucille Austin’s lectures on building rapport. Years later, she would pass on the fruits of Austin’s teachings to her own students in Hong Kong. “I think rapport is an important element in social work. It helps you communicate and understand the other person.”

Choy chose to attend Columbia because of New York City, which was a lot like Hong Kong. She wanted to learn from another big, cosmopolitan city to one day use her education when she returned home.

That is precisely what she did after graduation—and more. Today Choy is considered to be one of Hong Kong’s social work trailblazers. She was based for many years at Hong Kong University where she taught social work courses in family welfare and counseling and became a sought-after mentor and an influential advocate for social workers in Hong Kong.

“My students from those early years became driving forces behind the city’s social work development, rising to prominent positions,” she said.

Choy’s work has been widely recognized in Hong Kong. She was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1972 In Hong Kong, and awarded the honor of MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 1982 by the British Government.

Having an impact on two Columbia graduate schools

When Columbia University’s endowment report arrived last year at their family home in Hong Kong, the Choys flipped through its pages until they saw a familiar face: Brittany Butler (MSW’20), the inaugural recipient of the Choy Scholarship at the School of Social Work. Butler shared what studying at Columbia meant to her, allowing her to pursue a career helping others. She graduated last year, over half a century after Veronica, and now works as a case manager for Brooklyn-based Project HEAL, the only major nonprofit in the U.S. focused on equitable treatment access for eating disorders.

“We remember very vividly getting that mailing,” said Janice, with Louis and Veronica sitting next to her, smiling and nodding. “Then we knew we had affected a small change in a person’s life. We hope that she will become an agent of change in the future, touching many more lives on her pathway.”

Melissa Begg, Dean of the Columbia School of Social Work, said, “Veronica Siu-Fun Pun Choy has touched so many lives through her mentorship, advocacy, and decades of service. I am so grateful to the Choys for this gift, which will allow new generations of social workers to follow her inspiring example.”

The second portion of the gift will establish the Choy Family Fellowship Fund at the School of the Arts to provide need-based fellowships for students enrolled in the Visual Arts MFA program.

Carol Becker, School of the Arts Dean, commented, “The Choy Family Fellowship at the School of the Arts is a fabulous gift that will enable talented emerging artists from around the world to pursue their interdisciplinary studies with celebrated artists/professors.”

We are grateful to our colleagues at Giving to Columbia for providing the materials for the above article—in particular their post on Choy’s life story, “The Soul and Fabric of Society.”