Q&A with Peter Tong
Via the Tong Family Foundation, electrical and computer engineering alumnus Peter P. Tong (MS ’65) and his wife Janet have been enthusiastic and dedicated supporters of several College of Engineering programs, including the Tong Prototype Prize.
In May 2007, nearly 150 biomedical engineering students participated in the first annual Tong Biomedical Engineering Design Competition. The Tongs created this award program to support the Department of Biomedical Engineering culture of integrated education, discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. One student team from each class—sophomore, junior and senior—earns a Tong Biomedical Engineering Design Award. In addition, a follow-up award provides funding and employment for eligible candidates to further research, develop and protect their designs in collaboration with a BME faculty member.
Here, Peter Tong talks about the need for the Tong BME design awards.
What motivated you to fund this competition?
“I like the BME program a lot. Upon looking at the program itself, it has a heavy emphasis in getting students to really understand the problems they’re trying to solve—versus just coming up with a solution that may not work at all for the clinical environment. It’s not a one-shot deal. It’s a continuous process and the instructors promote very good teamwork among the students. They teach the students how to work together and that is also very unique. This is not a solo, one-man job. We all know in industry, very seldom can you do things by yourself anymore. You really have to work with a team. I think by giving the proper recognition, it incentivizes the students to do better and more.”
Why do you feel prototyping is so important to the design process?
“A prototype is probably one of the most essential tools for engineers to validate whether what they have in mind is practical. … I think that in the building process itself, you learn a lot more about the topics, you learn a lot more about the practicality of what you’re trying to do. I think prototyping is really a way of life. If you learn how to do prototyping well, you will do well the rest of your life.”
How do you hope the new competition and follow-up award will benefit biomedical engineering students?
“To provide the toolbox and the skill sets for the students so when they finish this program at UW-Madison, they’re really going to become truly well-rounded problemsolvers. And hopefully, this program will give them the top level of skill-sets so that they know how to deal with clinicians and healthcare professionals to come up with solutions that really make sense—versus just learning the theory of engineering.
“If we put together a top-notch educational program, we really differentiate this college from the rest of the pack. I think these are small things, but when you add them up, they really make a huge difference.”