Elizabeth Yun Hwang, Cherng Jia Hwang, Rajesh Rao
Elizabeth Yun Hwang, Cherng Jia Hwang, Rajesh Rao

Established in 2015 with a gift of $1,000,000 from Cherng Jia and Elizabeth Yun Hwang

The primary purpose of this endowment is to enhance the University's ability to recruit, retain and recognize distinguished faculty conducting research that leads to improvements in the quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries.

In the months after their daughter Karen's car accident and spinal cord injury, Cherng Jia "C.J." Hwang (UW EE Ph.D. '66) and Elizabeth Yun Hwang (UW MLIS '65) sought care that would improve their daughter's overall quality of life. While doctors encouraged adjustment to the new paralytic condition, the Hwangs believed their daughter Karen's care should not focus solely on simple, day-to-day functioning.

With no prior knowledge on caring for those with quadriplegia, they searched for answers, for current treatments and for groundbreaking solutions. In this search, they learned of promises of nerve regeneration and damaged nerve bypass – grand treatments that could someday transform paralysis diagnoses. However, there were no solutions that offered immediate impact for those already suffering from spinal cord injury.

The Hwangs wanted to do more. With a passion for innovation and a commitment to those suffering from spinal cord injury, they launched their own research initiative – the Cherng Jia & Elizabeth Yun Hwang Endowed Professorship – that is housed in the University of Washington Department of Electrical Engineering (UW EE).

This professorship is built on the Hwangs' shared vision of making life better for those with paralysis. It supports the critical advancement of rehabilitation technologies for spinal cord injury and stroke. The nature of this research requires a multi-disciplinary approach. UW EE is uniquely positioned to achieve this. The department's depth of collaboration spans multiple departments and disciplines with ten faculty in joint appointments and over a dozen adjunct faculty appointments.

Because of this dedication to collaboration, the department has established valuable partnerships with the UW Medical School and Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE), offering expertise in all areas of device rehabilitation design.

While a Ph.D. student in UW EE, Mr. Hwang received an education that prepared him for a lasting career at Bell Telephone Labs, something he attributes to the great mentorship by his adviser Professor Lynn Watt.

"The EE department of the UW gave me all the education I needed to enter the job market, and it was Professor Lynn Watt who had the greatest influence on my career path," Mr. Hwang said. "He guided me into the field of semiconductors by offering me a research assistantship. He also recommended me to the recruiter from Bell Telephone Labs, which gave me the opportunity to work in their laser group. This is the place where I was engaged in the development of semiconductor lasers and later used the technology to start my first company."

Mr. Hwang would go on to found three companies during his career: General Optronics Corp, which was the world's first semiconductor laser manufacturer; Applied Optronics Corp, the world’s first company producing high power semiconductor lasers and subsystems for medical surgical applications; and Optronics International Corp., the first Taiwanese company developing and commercializing semiconductor lasers and subsystems for high-speed fiber optic communications.

Within each decade, Mr. Hwang remained at the frontier of laser research, taking his prior discovery and implementing it at an advanced level of operation. His discoveries have had a substantive, profound impact on the development of opto-electronics and communication in the United States, as well as abroad. However, for Mr. Hwang, his lasting legacy is the The Cherng Jia & Elizabeth Yun Hwang Endowed Professorship.

Allen School holders of the Cherng Jia & Elizabeth Yun Hwang Professorship

Rajesh Rao, 2017-present