Donation to help fund new STEM facility on campus
THE SANTA CLARA
February 2, 2017
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is not the original version of this article, first published on Feb. 2. The original version contained additional comments and follow-up coverage. The comments were removed at the request of our publisher, Santa Clara University. We were and will remain strongly, vehemently opposed to removing sections of the original article. We found the request to be in violation of our commitment to journalistic ethics, and did so only to comply with our publisher’s request. Read our editorial on this issue here.
The pop music band Train got upstaged at this year’s Golden Circle event.
At the annual black tie fundraising gala held on Jan. 21, John and Susan Sobrato, both members of the class of 1960, announced a $100 million gift to fund a 300,000 square foot STEM facility. The building will be named the Sobrato Campus for Discovery and Innovation.
“There just hasn’t been a great connection between Santa Clara University and the high-tech community like Stanford enjoys,” John Sobrato said at a press conference held on Jan. 24. “I’m hoping that this new facility will transform the university’s position and solidify the fact that here we are in the Silicon Valley.”
According to Jim Lyons, vice president of University Relations, the Sobrato’s most recent donation is the largest gift in Santa Clara history and is tied with Georgetown University as the largest donation made to a Catholic institution.
“This building for the university is a real game-changer,” Lyons said.
The facility will replace the existing engineering quad and law school. Because the law school is occupying part of the site, construction for the STEM building cannot commence until the completion of the new law school in 2018.
“When I went to school (at Santa Clara), civil engineering is what everybody wanted to do. And today it’s software and nanotechnology,” Sobrato said. “All these new technologies didn’t exist 40 or 50 years ago. The old engineering quad is antique and it’s time to be replaced.”
According to Sobrato, the total cost of the project will be between $250 and $270 million. Sobrato’s donation is the lead gift in a multimillion dollar fundraising goal, with the hope that other Silicon Valley executives contribute to the STEM initiative.
Completion of the building is set for 2020.
“Basically I’d like to see this facility built and occupied and running in my lifetime,” Sobrato said.
Devcon Construction, Inc. will head up the project, as it is frequently referred to as Sobrato’s “favorite contractor.”
Devcon does most of the work for the Sobrato Organization’s office buildings, research and development projects.
The contractor will carry out the design plan created by Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects, one of about 20 architectural firms interviewed for the project.
“Even though they’re a Portland firm, they’ve done a lot of work in the Bay Area that I love to look at,” Sobrato said. “They’ve come up with a design that’s going to be more transparent than some of the other buildings on campus but still retain some of the architectural details that everybody loves about Santa Clara.”
Sobrato said the inside will have open workspaces similar to modern Silicon Valley workplace environments, with flexible furniture, a showcase space and food facilities.
“There’ll be a whole new spirit of teaching,” Sobrato said. “Bringing all these various disciplines that are scattered across the campus together … it’s an opportunity to collaborate.”
The Sobrato family has received numerous awards for their philanthropy in the Silicon Valley. In 2015, the couple won the Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s “Spirit of Silicon Valley” Lifetime Achievement Award. Sobrato himself was the 2012 recipient of the David Packard Award for Civic Entrepreneurship given by Joint Venture Silicon Valley for his work as the founder of a commercial development firm.
“We focus our giving primarily in the Silicon Valley,” Sobrato said. “Since we made our success here, we believe it’s important for us to give back to this community.”
In 2014, Forbes Magazine ranked Sobrato and his family in America’s 50 Top Givers. Sobrato and his son, John Michael, have both signed the Warren Buffett pledge—so far the only two generational family members to have done so.
According to John, he, Susan and John Michael pledged to give 100 percent of their wealth to charity when their “will matures.”
The Sobrato Family Foundation was created in 1996 by the couple and their three children. Both John and Susan attended Santa Clara, as well as their son, deceased daughter-in-law and two oldest grandsons.
According to Lyons, The Sobrato Family Foundation is the largest single donor to the university, independent of the recent $100 million gift.
“John didn’t want to make a big splash about this,” Lyons said. “He’s very humble.”
Since 1996, the Sobrato Family has donated nearly $375 million in cash and real estate, according to a university press release.
More than $40 million was previously donated to Santa Clara through projects such as the Harrington Learning Commons, Sobrato Technology Center, Orradre Library, Sobrato Residential Learning Community, Abby Sobrato Mall and other campus buildings.
“The Jesuits believe in giving back,” Sobrato said. “That’s where our family had that value instilled— at Santa Clara University.”
Contact Erin Fox at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.