Agus and Fifi at their graduation from the Carroll School of Management in 1994.
Even from the other side of the world, Setiawaty “Fifi” and Agus Pangestu don’t let distance—or 12 time zones—keep them away from Boston College. Both 1994 graduates, the Pangestus are active members of the BC Alumni Association chapter in Jakarta, Indonesia; have been ardent ambassadors for BC in their community; and, most recently, made a gift to support 245 Beacon Street, BC’s new home of integrated science, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
It’s not strictly nostalgia that keeps them connected, it’s their belief in where Boston College is headed and the global impact it can have.
“We were so impressed with BC’s new engineering department and the new building. We think it will take BC to another level,” says Agus, the president director of Barito Pacific, the largest integrated petrochemical producer and the largest geothermal energy producer in Indonesia. “We see firsthand the need for innovative solutions to address environmental, economic, and social challenges, and we believe BC can play an important role.”
The couple toured the building in 2022 as part of a campus visit with their daughters. Inspired by their own undergraduate experiences, the Pangestus have encouraged their children to study in the U.S.; Philippe, their oldest, graduated from Stanford and now works in New York City, Isabel, the middle child, attends Cornell University, and Sophia, their youngest, is eyeing schools on the East Coast. “It was probably the golden years of our lives, and we want them to experience that,” says Fifi.
Our favorite professor, hands down, was Professor Richard Tresch who taught our principles of economics course; he was the reason we both chose economics as one of our majors,” says Fifi. “His lectures were always so early in the morning, and yet they were the most packed, because he always came in so energetic, so full of humor. That really gave us a lasting impression.”
—FIFI PANGESTU ’94
As a teen, Agus left Jakarta to attend Boston College High School, boarding with a couple who were on the faculty at BC and who encouraged him to apply. Growing up in Singapore, Fifi knew she wanted a great education—in a place with all four seasons—and BC quickly became her top choice.
They met early in their first semester and soon began dating, spending most of their time with a large network of Asian students at BC and other schools around the city. Expecting to return home to join their respective family’s businesses, they both enrolled in the Carroll School of Management where they often found themselves in class together.
“Our favorite professor, hands down, was Professor Richard Tresch who taught our principles of economics course; he was the reason we both chose economics as one of our majors,” says Fifi. “His lectures were always so early in the morning, and yet they were the most packed, because he always came in so energetic, so full of humor. That really gave us a lasting impression.”
They stayed in touch with Tresch after graduation, visiting when they came to campus and, at their 25th reunion, they contributed to a research fund named in his honor. “We always remember that, because BC prepared us so well for our career, for the ‘real world,’ we should give back to BC as much as we can.”
JOURNEY TO JAKARTA
After graduation, they moved to New York City where Agus worked as an investment banking analyst and Fifi worked as a junior auditor. When the Asian financial crisis hit in 1997, Agus’s father asked him to come home to help with the family business, Barito Pacific. The couple moved to Indonesia, got married, and went to work, calling on their lessons in finance and economics to help the firm pivot from the declining timber industry to a diversified portfolio that includes petrochemicals, mining, geothermal energy, infrastructure, and other sectors.
Fifi worked alongside her husband and his parents until 2017 when she was asked to take over as executive director of Bakti Barito, the firm’s philanthropic foundation.
“Originally the foundation operated like a charity, providing disaster relief and making donations to people in need,” says Fifi. “When I came on, I wanted it to have a special focus so that it could be more significant and more sustainable.”
Now the foundation focuses on four key areas: education, the environment, economic empowerment, and social progress. One of their flagship initiatives is an effort to completely rethink plastic waste management, from school-based training on responsible consumption to innovative community recycling programs, coupled with extensive research into cutting-edge solutions such as plastic asphalt roads.
Inspired in part by the excellent teachers they’d found at BC, the Pangestus are passionate about education, both through their foundation’s initiatives and in their own family.
“When we brought the girls to visit BC last summer, we were blown away by how beautiful the campus still is, how impressive the faculty are,” says Fifi. As part of their visit, the family met with students and faculty from BC’s new human-centered engineering program and the Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society.
“It’s very futuristic, because a lot of colleges still put engineering as a separate school and it becomes too scientific, too technical,” says Fifi. “But if you’re working across disciplines, that’s when you can help solve real problems.”
Excited by BC’s multidisciplinary approach, the Pangestus see the potential for collaboration between their foundation and BC’s engineering program, the Schiller Institute, and other new initiatives. Already they have invited faculty to visit their plastic recycling plant and other sites in Indonesia, and they hope to sponsor student internships and collaborative research projects in the future.
“BC is a highly ranked research institution, and they are working to address many of the same global challenges as we are,” says Agus. “We hope our gift can help maximize 245 Beacon’s potential as an interdisciplinary, entrepreneurial hub for the BC community.”
Fifi agrees, noting that their work with Bakti Barito has expanded their view of what philanthropy can achieve. “With our first gift to the Tresch Research Fund, at that point all we were hoping for was to help meet the financial needs of some graduate students. But now, our vision has widened, and we want to do all we can to help the underprivileged and to advocate for BC. That’s our goal now.”
A Closer Look at 245 Beacon Street
The Pangestu’s gift will go toward BC’s new landmark building, 245 Beacon Street, a state-of-the-art research facility designed to foster faculty and student collaboration across the natural sciences, engineering, the humanities, and social sciences. Housed within the five-story, 157,000-square-foot facility are the Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society, the Department of Engineering, the Edmund H. Shea Jr. Center for Entrepreneurship, the Computer Science Department, and research laboratories. The building also serves as a hub for making and prototyping, includes cutting-edge studios for learning, and provides flexible spaces for impromptu brainstorming.
seats in the main auditorium, which is used for teaching and signature events such as the Lowell Humanities Series
makerspaces: Hatchery, Academic Prototyping Studio, and Rapid Prototyping Shop
pounds of espresso beans ordered each month the Tully Cafe and Commons at 245 Beacon