First published in the Feb. 24 print issue of the Pasadena Outlook.
The Caltech Y will create new opportunities for international students and scholars to meet, socialize and share their culture with the broader Caltech community thanks to a generous gift from Dr. Lajos Piko, a former Caltech researcher who passed away in 2021 at the age of 92.
The Caltech Y Ingrid Gumpel Memorial Endowment Fund was created and named after Piko’s longtime partner who passed away in 2011. Ingrid Gumpel’s estate seeded the fund, and Piko made additional contributions while he was alive and in his planned giving. By supporting Caltech’s international community, the fund honors Gumpel’s legacy. She dedicated most of her 39-year career at Caltech to helping students and scholars from other countries adjust to life in the United States.
A native of Hungary, Piko understood the challenges of living in a new country, says Athena Castro, executive director of the Caltech Y, a nonprofit serving Caltech students.
“It brought him immense joy to see others benefiting from his and Ingrid’s generosity, and he kept every thank you note and card sent to him by Caltech Y members,” Castro says. “With his bequest, the Caltech Y can dream bigger and find new ways to celebrate the diverse communities of Caltech and Pasadena.”
Piko attended veterinary school in Budapest but later moved to France soon after the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. While working in a lab in Paris, Piko became interested in molecular biology and started communicating with Caltech professor Albert Tyler. Their correspondence led to a Caltech research fellowship for Piko and a new life in the U.S. He befriended Gumpel and, together, they attended social events and camping trips with Caltech’s international community. He became involved with the Caltech Y at the suggestion of Gumpel’s close friend Gunilla Hastrup.
Founded in 1916, the Caltech Y hosts events and volunteering opportunities that encourage Caltech undergraduate and graduate students to be responsible citizens of the world. Guided by the group’s five pillars: leadership, service, public engagement, adventure and perspective. Caltech Y members travel the world, test themselves in outdoor adventures, tutor local schoolchildren, prepare meals for those experiencing homelessness and dialogue with elected national and international officials and more.