Life-changing SFU experience inspires alumnus to pay it forward

October 13, 2021

When Robert Chen arrived at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in 1998 to pursue his master's degree in economics, it was his first time venturing outside of his home country. He landed in Canada with only $100 in his pocket, the clothes on his back, and one piece of luggage. 

Although Chen was far from his hometown in the Chinese province of Henan, he quickly found a second home at SFU's Department of Economics. The relationships he formed particularly those with his professors, had a profound impact on him even to this day. 

After years of working in the United States (US) and parts of Asia, Chen is currently based in Toronto as the Senior Portfolio Manager, Active Asset Allocation at Investment Management Corporation of Ontario (IMCO). As one of the largest institutional investment managers in Canada and around the globe, IMCO manages over $70 billion in assets for public sector clients in Ontario. 

"In the past two decades, whether I lived in Canada, US or Asia, I always felt a strong sense of gratitude to SFU," says Chen who remembers his mentors with great fondness. 

"I had a lot of good memories at SFU Economics—having beers with Robbie Jones at the Mountain Shadow Pub, spending Christmas at Whistler with Peter Kennedy, and playing soccer with Doug Allen," reminisces Chen. "It really speaks to the community at the Department and it was a very special experience for me." 

Fuelled by a desire to give back to his alma mater which had left him with such fond memories, Chen pledged a financial contribution to the Economics Student Leadership Fund. Established in conjunction with the Department's 55th anniversary, the fund supports student-led initiatives, career development events, and alumni networking opportunities. 

As a student, Chen received financial support from awards such as the Lang Wong Memorial Endowment Scholarship so he understands the meaningful impact donations can have on students. The funding along with the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant greatly helped to alleviate Chen's financial pressures so that he could dedicate his focus on excelling in his studies.

"Having benefitted from financial awards made possible by other donors, I see it as my responsibility now to pay it forward," says Chen. "I believe that there is always room to help, no matter how big or small." 

After more than 20 years and many moves across the globe, Chen still considers SFU his second home and hopes to set foot on the Burnaby campus again in the near future. "Once it's safe to travel, the first thing I'm going to do is take my family on a visit to SFU" says Chen. "I look forward to showing my children the place that made such a big impact on me."