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CSUF Plans Out Record $40M Gift’s Many Uses

Numerous donors on the Business Journal’s annual list of Largest Charitable Gifts have close ties to the recipients of their gifts, such as being graduates of an area school, acting as members of a local nonprofit’s board, or being recipients of an Orange County hospital’s care.

MacKenzie Scott and her husband, Dan Jewett, on the other hand, have no prior connection to California State University, Fullerton. It’s unknown if the couple, who live in the Seattle area, has ever stepped foot on the 241-acre campus of the largest school in the CSU system, which counts 40,087 students.

A lack of local ties didn’t stop the duo from making their impact felt at the school, via a $40 million gift to CSUF, by far the largest in the school’s 64-year history.

The donation ranks No. 3 on this week’s annual listing of local giving (see list, page 20).

Scott and Jewett’s lack of connections to the school only adds to the magnitude of the gift, according to Vice President for University Advancement Greg Saks.

“A gift of this kind from such a sophisticated philanthropist is validating. Anyone connected with Cal State Fullerton should be very proud of this,” Saks told the Business Journal.

Only OC Gift

Scott—the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and with an estimated wealth of $36 billion following their 2019 divorce—and Jewett disclosed their donation to the school last June. It was part of a larger $2.7 billion philanthropic effort they made that was directed at nearly 286 “equity-oriented” nonprofit organizations.

CSUF was the only OC-based group to receive the couple’s funding as part of the June announcement.

When considering schools deserving recognition, the couple and a team of researchers and advisers sought “two- and four-year institutions successfully educating students who come from communities that have been chronically underserved,” according to a blog post Scott published at the time the gifts were announced.

Current, Future Needs

CSUF President Fram Virjee, at the time of the gift’s disclosure, cited the couple’s “vision and diligence in seeking out and supporting our work and success.”

“Through their research, they realized Cal State Fullerton is doing transformational work,” Saks said. “Every day, CSUF is making a remarkable difference in the lives of so many students and in our community.”

Virjee, his cabinet and a group of campus stakeholders last year began an effort to decide how to allocate the unrestricted gift. Those plans were announced in September.

A focus of their efforts, they said, was to allocate some money that could be put to current use, as well as to create endowment funds to ensure sustainability.

“We want to make current use of the gift and also make sure we can set it up in a way that years and years to come, we’ll be feeling the impact of these gifts with the endowments” Saks said.

Officials of the university said they strove for transparency with how the money will be used, and published an outline of their plans.

 

Endowment Boost

The largest portion of the funds, at $15 million, was an investment vehicle, the MacKenzie Scott & Dan Jewett Endowed Fund for Excellence.

The endowment’s funds “will support the mission of CSUF,” and Virjee and his cabinet will start making use of the investment returns next year, according to Saks.  

As of mid-2020, CSUF’s total endowment counted an $82 million market value.

The largest current-use allocation of the gift is $11 million, which has been set aside for a matching gift program that will encourage more donors to invest in the institution. The university is offering a 50% match on cash or cash pledge amounts to endowments or capital projects during the 2021-22 fiscal year, which ends June 30. The program aims “to double the $11 million value of the gift 

and build capacity throughout the university,” it said.

Saks said campus leadership carved out an amount that would allow for donors at all levels and gifts of all sizes to increase their efforts (see story, this page).

“This remarkable opportunity has allowed us to leverage and motivate a lot of other giving,” Saks said. “We believe the donor wanted to help amplify the power of their gift by getting other people involved.”

CSUF is still in the midst of its larger “It Takes a Titan” fundraising campaign. As a result of the couple’s gift, the $200 million campaign goal was boosted to $250 million.

Other Areas

Other notable allocations of the $40 million gift from Scott and Jewett are:

• Undergraduate programs participating in research with faculty, providing an opportunity that at most schools are exclusive to graduate students.

• Funding for the Titans Together Speaker Series, to bring external speakers to speak on themes of resilience in relation to the Titan community.

• A request for proposal process wherein members of the campus community can apply for funds for innovative ideas or to expand existing programs that “enhance the Titan experience.”

• Professional development activities and community building efforts within faculty and staff associations.

Prior to the couple’s donation, the largest gift to CSUF had been a 14-car collection valued at $10 million given by longtime supporters Nicholas and Lee Begovich. That gift, announced in 2020, benefits gravitational-wave, engineering and also computer science faculty and student research at the university. 

CSUF Computer Science, Engineering Boost 

One example of how MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett’s $40 million gift to California State University, Fullerton is already being put to use: a recent grant of $325,000 given by Bank of America to CSUF’s Women in Computer Science and Engineering program (WiCSE) was given a 50% match of funds from the schools’ new $11 million matching program to bring the total gift to almost $500,000.

The BofA funds, dubbed the Workplace Development Grant, aims to expand the WiCSE program from two to four years, triple the number of students enrolled, and help meet the demand for skilled talent in high-wage careers in Orange County’s engineering and computer science sectors, officials said.

The Workplace Development Grant is part of the university’s $250 million “It Takes a Titan” initiative—CSUF’s main philanthropic campaign designed to invest in projects that “enhance academic innovation, empower students, transform campus structures and enrich the community.”

The funds help “ensure that we can continue to support and build WiCSE,” said Susan Barua, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science. “By increasing the breadth and scope of the program, we increase the number of women we can serve.”

BofA’s philanthropic priorities “are initiatives that advance racial and gender equality as well as economic opportunity,” said Bank of America Orange County President Allan Staff. “This investment will help students from disadvantaged backgrounds attain college degrees that lead to high-wage careers in our country’s growing sectors, including engineering and computer science. It’s a true win-win opportunity to create lasting positive results”

 

Bridging a Gap

According to CSUF officials, women make up about 59% of the school’s total students, yet represent 19% of engineering computer science (ECS) students.

CSUF developed WiCSE in 2012 as a two-year program to help support female students in their pursuit of careers in the STEM field.

“The goal of WiCSE is to diversify the pathways of female graduates entering careers in technology fields,” said Beth Harnick Shapiro, an adjunct faculty member who runs WiCSE. “Our goal is to support female students so they are empowered to reach their full potential and achieve academic success while expanding a network of women alumni.”

Today, 70% of the program’s female students are from communities of color, officials said.

Some WiCSE alumni have been hired at Google, NASA JPL, DreamWorks, and others.

What makes Bank of America’s “generous gift even more exciting” is that a portion of the Scott-Jewett gift will be matched and allocated to the WiCSE program, said Vice President of University Advancement Greg Saks.

“That means the WiCSE program will receive an additional $162,500, getting us closer to a half-million-dollar endowment,” Saks said.

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Meghan Kliewer
Meghan Kliewer
Meghan is an Orange County native that joined OCBJ as an intern in 2017. Soon after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Communications and minor in Business Administration, she was promoted to the position of Research Director. Outside of the office, Meghan teaches yoga and attends music festivals.
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