By Matthew Biddle
From an early age, Edwin Wong, BS ’94, saw firsthand the value of serving others and giving back.
His mother, Winnie, was a teacher and donated to various causes, while his father, Thomas, worked in New York City government. Though Wong’s parents passed away in the past two years, their example lives on in their son’s commitment to service and charitable giving.
“My father was a community advocate, so it runs in the family,” Wong says. “When I see something that isn’t in existence that could benefit others, I try to start it. I’m always thinking about what I can do to help other people.”
For example, Wong founded the Forest Hills Asian Association, which serves a neighborhood in Queens, New York, with a growing Asian American population. The nonprofit collaborates with other organizations—including the Queens Community Board 6 on which Wong serves—to host events that promote civic engagement, local businesses, culture and community bridge-building.
Wong also is a board member for the Alliance for Flushing Meadows Corona Park, which raises funds for the park’s programs, and dedicated a New York park bench to celebrate his parents’ 50th anniversary as Queens residents.
When COVID-19 sparked an increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans, Wong organized a vigil after the Atlanta spa shootings and a rally as part of a National Day of Action and Healing.
And, for the past two Easters, he has partnered with the Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory and the FDNY Phoenix Society, which represents Asian American first responders, to donate ice cream to several FDNY EMS stations in memory of his late parents.
“We wanted to support a small business and provide a treat for FDNY EMS workers on Easter,” Wong says. “In addition, this gesture was an opportunity to celebrate our first responders and recognize their selflessness and heroism, including Asian Americans who are on the front lines despite the increase in violence and harassment against them.”
Wong’s activism began as a student in the UB School of Management. Here, he gained foundational business skills through the school’s accounting and finance programs, and co-developed and co-taught an Asian American studies class with other UB students and faculty.
“For me, that class was the most impactful part of my UB experience,” Wong says. “I learned about myself, as well as the contributions Asian Americans made to this country, which I hadn’t learned about in high school or elementary school.”
Since graduating from the School of Management, Wong has built a successful banking career, while trying to help the business community. Through his roles in commercial lending for Citibank, HSBC and Bank of China, Wong has most enjoyed helping clients secure a loan when they might not otherwise have access to one, which in turn allows those businesses to create jobs and support their employees.
“That can be challenging, to figure out how to accommodate the customer and manage risks to the bank,” says Wong. “After helping customers navigate these big banks, I thought, ‘If I can do this, I can advocate for residents within city government, too.’ After all, government is also a large organization.”
So, earlier this year, Wong ran for New York City Council, and though he did not win the race, the experience has furthered his interest in a career in public service.
“I’ve been lucky to work in accounting, banking and now this next phase, where I can help people in a different way,” Wong says. “That’s nothing like what I expected when I entered UB, but I’m grateful for all of the opportunities and the support of my wife, Katherine, and family along the way.”