Learning and Writing Center gift helps ensure students’ success

What do biology and classics have in common? In terms of subject matter, nothing really. Except that you can major in both at a liberal arts university. And use such a diverse background as a launching pad to a successful career.

Those were the first steps along the path for Alex Yong ’90, now senior product designer for Major League Baseball, where he is responsible for the design of MLB.com.

Yong developed a love of UNC early.

Dean Kevin Guskiewicz (left) celebrated Alex Yong and Wendi Strugis’ gift at Carolina’s For All Kind campaign kickoff in October.

The connection continued to grow as he became involved in activities on campus.

“Once I matriculated at UNC, my opinion of our university only went higher. I loved how accessible my professors were, even in my larger classes. I joined the crew club my freshman year—a lot of memories of running to University Lake at 5 a.m. for morning practice, then attending my 8 a.m. English class directly afterwards. Several of the guys who I rowed with were brothers at Chi Psi fraternity, and I pledged there my sophomore year. It was a unique and diverse group who placed a strong emphasis on excelling at whatever you did. I feel blessed that I am still very close to so many of my fraternity brothers and friends from UNC. I see them regularly all over the world.”

But a biology and classics double major? How did that happen?

“When I started at Carolina, I was a biology major on a pre-med track, but I took a Roman archaeology course my freshman year with the incredible Professor Gerhard Koeppel and was hooked,” he said. “I completed all my pre-med courses, but I decided that medicine wouldn’t be my chosen path.”

After working for several years in independent film and TV commercial production and meeting his wife, Wendi Sturgis, who was working for a tech startup, Yong developed an interest in digital design and technology. Knowing that technology was the future, he enrolled in the intensive multimedia design and production program at New York University and has been with MLB since 2003.

As a testament to the importance of a multi-faceted education, he said, “For many people, the path from point A to point B is seldom straight, and I think it is important for future graduates to understand that you have to be well-rounded and highly adaptable.”

Yong and Sturgis, who is an alumna of Georgia Tech and chair of its advisory board, wanted to support their universities and maximize their impact by giving sooner rather than later. In addition to significant planned gifts to the College of Arts and Sciences that benefit technology and innovation in the Learning and Writing Center, diversity initiatives in the department of computer science, and scholarships, the two have created an immediate-use fund for the Learning and Writing Center.

“We both feel so fortunate to have had extraordinary collegiate experiences that shaped us far beyond academics alone,” Yong said. “We felt it was important to make our commitments earlier in life to support the capital campaigns of our universities and to help ensure that our alma maters have the resources they need to continue their commitment to excellence.”

Their gifts are reflective of their passions.

“I know firsthand the huge impact a strong technical education can have on your life,” Sturgis said. “I have been the beneficiary of an incredible career as a direct result of my education. So has Alex. I strive to be a role model for young women (both at work and through her support of charities) and by creating a computer science diversity initiative fund, I hope to make the path a little easier for women and students from groups traditionally underrepresented in this field to pursue a path in technology.”

They feel similarly about the Learning and Writing Center.

“The Learning and Writing Center is available for all Carolina students at all academic levels, but it is particularly helpful to first generation and transfer students—40 percent of the students who visit the center are from these two groups. We believe strongly that all college students, no matter their background, should have every resource available to ensure their ultimate success. We know that a UNC degree will change the trajectory of a person’s life forever,” Yong said.

Yong’s desire to give also flows from that deep-seeded love of the university.

“It’s really difficult to convey my love for Carolina in words. It’s a feeling that I’ve held close since my first days there, and perhaps is stronger now,” he said.

In addition to his affection, he is also grateful for current leadership and the direction UNC is going.

“Meeting Chancellor Carol Folt and Dean Kevin Guskiewicz solidified our decision to give. They are both amazing people and have such great energy and passion for UNC. We should all feel fortunate and proud that they are guiding Carolina into the future.”

In support of For All Kind: The Campaign for Carolina, when asked, “what are you for?” Yong and Sturgis agree, “We are for opportunity and access for people from all walks of life!”

And at its core, isn’t that what a liberal arts education and UNC is all about?

By Mary Moorefield