Queens College receives $1.1M endowment from Flushing organization to support Asian contemporary art

The Thomas Chen Family / Crystal Windows Endowment Reception
Queens College President Frank H. Wu, at left, accepts a $1.1 million endowment from Thomas Chen, founder and chairman, Crystal Window and Door Systems (fourth from left) and his family. Third and fifth from left are Chen’s sons Steve, president, Crystal Window and Door Systems, and Johnson, general manager, Tempco Glass fabrication; seventh from left is Diana Chang, Johnson Chen’s wife, also affiliated with Tempco Glass. Seated are Tiffany Eason, a representative for Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. and State Senator John Liu (Photo by Andy Poon/Queens College)

The Thomas Chen family, of Crystal Window and Door Systems in Flushing, gifted an endowment of $1,105,000 to Queens College on Wednesday, Nov. 10, to help establish the college’s new School of the Arts. 

The endowment is the first major gift to Queens College to support the institution’s Asian contemporary art exhibitions, student scholarships, and a visiting artist program. The college offers undergraduate degrees in studio art, art history, design, photography and imaging and graduate degrees in studio, art, art history and social practice. 

Queens College President Frank Wu said they are profoundly grateful for the generous support of Thomas Chen, founder and chairman of Crystal Window and Door Systems, whose endowment will enable the college to offer exciting new programs and scholarships.

“At the same time, Chen’s remarkable life and outstanding career will inspire our students, showing them that with vision and hard work, the American dream is attainable,” Wu said at a reception held Wednesday morning at the Queens College Music Building.

Chen, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, emigrated to the United States from Taiwan in 1982 with little money and no command of English. Eight years later, Chen founded Crystal Window and Door Systems in Flushing, while his son, Steve, serves as president in charge of daily operations. 

Today, Chen is a major supporter of Asian culture and art, and educational initiatives for immigrants. 

As someone who never had the opportunity to attend college, Chen believes supporting a prestigious local institution like Queens College with its long history of benefitting immigrants and first-generation Americans makes perfect sense. 

“I am proud to make this contribution on behalf of the Chen Family and Crystal Windows to Queens College,” Chen said. “As someone who never had the opportunity to attend college, I believe supporting a prestigious local institution like Queens College with its long history of benefitting immigrants and first-generation Americans makes perfect sense.” 

The recipient of numerous honors, Chen has been named one of “New York’s 100 Most Powerful Minority Business Leaders” by Crain’s New York Business, “Entrepreneur of the Year” by New York City Region by Ernst & Young, “Business Person of the Year” by the Queens Chamber of Commerce, and he received the Minority Business Leadership Award from the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC).

Chen is a founding member of the Taiwanese American Arts Council, which collaborates with the Queens Museum to support Asian artists throughout the city. 

Together with his family, Chen provides support to Queensborough Community College, Queens Theatre in the Park, the NYC Winter Lantern Festival, Flushing Town Hall, and the Flushing Taiwan Center. Chen is also the founder of Crystal Park, a private 200-acre sculpture park and nature preserve in Dutchess County. 

As a sponsor for local and international contemporary artists, Chen exhibits their work along the wooded trails of Crystal Park for the enjoyment of guests and local residents. The park’s most recent installation is a life-sized bronze statue of the late Claire Shulman, a four-term Queens borough president, a longtime mentor and friend of the Chen family, and a supporter of its business endeavors.  

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards issued a proclamation in honor of the Chen family and Crystal Windows that acknowledged their “deep and ongoing commitment to the borough.” 

“Thomas Chen is extraordinarily generous in his support of many different outstanding organizations in Queens,” Richards said. “Thanks to his latest gift, Queens College will be in an even better position to offer a first-rate education to talented people of all backgrounds and financial means.” 

Lee Fensterstock, president of the Queens College Foundation, said they’re grateful for the “incredible gift” and the direct benefit it will bring to students. 

“Queens College has always been known for its excellent programs in the arts,” Fensterstock said. “Mr. Chen’s gift will take our programming in the arts to a new level.” 

In her remarks, So, an immigrant from Hong Kong who is considering a career as an art therapist, shared her gratitude for the Chen family’s endowment. 

“With the support from Mr. Chen and his family, more young immigrant artists like myself can have the opportunity to achieve our dream. And hopefully, one day, there will be more immigrant or Asian artists’ work in museums,” So said. 

So, who found it difficult to express herself in English during high school, said that art helped her break out of her shell. 

“Through art, I was able to communicate with my classmates, and I started making new friends. Art helped me build up my self-esteem. There is no language barrier in art, and I think that is the beauty of it,” So said. “It is wonderful to see Queens College encouraging people from different backgrounds and young immigrant artists to learn more about art.” 

Local elected officials such as Congresswoman Grace Meng, Senators John Liu and Toby Stavisky, commended the Chen family for their generous support to Queens College. 

The Chen’s endowment will help the college do an even better job in serving students, and preparing them for their careers and futures, Meng said.  

“I thank them for contributing to the growth of this exceptional institution. It is important to ensure that the college remains a critical asset to our borough and the rest of New York City,” Meng said. 

Stavisky said the new School of the Arts represents an exciting new chapter for Queens College. 

“This endowment and the culturally enlightening opportunities it will provide will serve as a critical foundation for the school to build upon,” Stavisky said. “Thank you to Thomas Chen and his family for their generosity. I know this support will not only enrich the student experience but will enable Queens College to continue to be a beacon of light for the arts.”

Liu reflected on Chen’s arrival in Queens from Taiwan, and sleeping in the senator’s family’s living room floor for a week before securing his first job and achieving the American dream. 

“With all his success over four decades, he never once forgot to give back and provide others with opportunity, and with this endowment continues his life’s commitment first as entrepreneur and in more recent years as philanthropist,” Liu said. “We owe Thomas and the Chen family a debt of gratitude.”