December 13, 2017

Yee Scholarships Help Students Achieve their Dreams

“Growing up in the small town of Marianna, Arkansas, I reached the same conclusion that much of America did when the Russians launched Sputnik in 1957: We have some catching up to do in the space race,” recalls James “Jim” Yee (BS ’65). “I also decided that rocket science was something I’d like to do someday.”

Thirty-four years later, Yee was invited to the John F. Kennedy Space Center to witness as NASA launched its orbiter space shuttle Discovery. Even from the distance of a couple of miles, a shuttle’s takeoff produces “a sound that becomes a feeling inside your body,” Yee marvels.

Along with the physical sensation induced by 37-million-horsepower boosters and engines, he felt a sense of fulfillment, knowing he had worked on an infrared sensor that was installed on the shuttle.

Throughout his employment at Aerojet—a rocket and missile propulsion manufacturing company established in 1942 by aeronautics legend Theodore von Kármán with fellow scientists and engineers from Caltech and JPL—Yee found himself reflecting on the scientific approach to problem-solving that he first developed at Caltech and how well it had served him.

Grateful for the education that helped him make his childhood dream come true, Jim Yee and his wife, Candace “Candy” Yee, gave to various Caltech funds over the years. Then, two years after attending his 50th reunion in 2015, the couple decided to contribute to Caltech’s scholarship endowment and help some of today’s aspiring scientists and engineers achieve their dreams.

The Yees made a $75,000 gift that was amplified with $50,000 from a scholarship match offered by an anonymous donor. In this way, they created two funds: a $100,000 endowed scholarship that will benefit generations of students in the future and a $25,000 current-use scholarship to support a student today.

The Sum Yee and Sue Kai Yee scholarship funds were named in honor of Jim Yee’s parents. “I was extremely fortunate,” Jim Yee explains. “A National Merit scholarship covered half of my tuition and room and board, and my mom and dad, who were hardworking grocers, paid the rest.”

“Thanks to my parents, I was able to attend Caltech. Candy and I thought it would be nice to help students who don’t have that kind of support, and to celebrate the spirit of my parents’ generosity.”
- Jim Yee

“Jim and Candy Yee understand what a transformative impact a need-based scholarship can have on a student’s life,” says Jarrid Whitney, Caltech’s executive director of admissions and financial aid. “Thanks to them, and other donors like them, Caltech can continue to attract and support the most promising scholars, regardless of their financial means. We are grateful to the Yees for their generous gift.”

Noting that the high caliber of Caltech’s students has not wavered over the years, the Yees are confident that those who benefit from their philanthropy will make important contributions to society.

Yee in his junior year at Caltech (courtesy Big T, 1964)
Yee in his junior year (courtesy Big T, 1964)

“I set my sights on Caltech in high school when I read in the Memphis Commercial Appeal that it was the best university in the U.S.,” Jim Yee remembers. “I can only say that I was pretty stupid and arrogant to think it would be easy to get in. Luckily, though, I was accepted.” He adds, with a laugh, “Then I quickly discovered how smart my Caltech classmates were, and it wasn’t long before that arrogance got knocked out of me.”

“There is one big difference between Caltech’s class of 1965 and its class of 2018,” Candy Yee points out. “It’s a given that if you’re a student at Caltech, you’ve always been among the most promising scientists and engineers in the world—and today, nearly 50 percent of Caltech students are women.”

Accomplishments and aptitude are factors in Caltech’s stringent admissions decision-making process; ability to pay is not. In fact, Caltech is among only 6 percent of private U.S. institutions that make admissions decisions based solely on merit. Keeping it that way is among the top priorities of Break Through: The Caltech Campaign. Currently, more than half of Caltech undergraduates receive need-based scholarships.