A combined $50 million commitment from Robert F. Smith ’85, founder, chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, and the foundation of which he is a founding director will support chemical and biomolecular engineering and African-American and female students at Cornell University’s College of Engineering. The gift will also create a unique fellowship program at Cornell Tech that further strengthens the New York City campus’s ties to engineering in Ithaca.
In recognition of Smith’s support, the university will name the Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Cornell, as well as the Robert Frederick Smith Tech Scholars Program spanning Cornell Engineering and Cornell Tech.
Established in 1938, the newly named Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering awards approximately one of every 100 bachelor’s degrees in chemical engineering granted in the United States each year. The school is known nationally for its rigorous undergraduate program of study and has earned a reputation for educating students who can thrive in any field. Now it bears the name of one of its most successful graduates, Robert F. Smith, whose private equity firm focuses on investments in enterprise software and technology-enabled businesses.
“Robert’s gift creates an extraordinary opportunity for Cornell. Not only will it support a critical and rapidly expanding area of study – chemical and biomolecular engineering – but it will also allow the university to help address a national challenge: improving the representation of women and minorities in scientific research and development. We are excited to partner with Robert and the Fund II Foundation to advance their goals, which so closely align with our own,” said Cornell President Elizabeth Garrett.
The Robert Frederick Smith School will receive an endowment from Smith’s commitment, an investment Director Lynden Archer says will transform the school’s programs at all levels – expanding opportunities for faculty and student discovery and training the next generation of critical thinkers who will solve global problems. A significant portion of the endowment will be dedicated to scholarship and fellowship support for populations traditionally underrepresented in engineering and technology, particularly African-American and female students.
“We are thrilled to receive this gift. It comes at a time of unprecedented growth in student interest in chemical and biomolecular engineering and during a period when research in the school is defining the next frontiers of the field. It also speaks volumes about the impacts the school continues to have in educating students like Robert who go on to become leaders in diverse fields,” said Archer.
The gift will also create a program fund for diversity initiatives in engineering and provide the resources to create the Robert Frederick Smith Tech Scholars Program. Through the latter, select high school seniors with financial need – again focusing on African-American and female students – will be invited to earn an undergraduate degree at Cornell Engineering, followed by a one-year technical master’s degree at Cornell Tech.
“Robert’s generosity will not only elevate our School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, but it will ensure it becomes more accessible than ever,” said Lance Collins, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Cornell Engineering. “I believe an affordable educational path from engineering in Ithaca to Cornell Tech in New York City, for those who wouldn’t otherwise be offered such an opportunity, will produce some of the sharpest minds in engineering and technology. I’m thankful Robert shares this vision and is making it a reality.”
The Robert Frederick Smith Tech Scholars will benefit from the strong entrepreneurship and leadership programs at Cornell Engineering and opportunities to engage with Cornell Tech faculty and programs throughout the bachelor’s/master’s cycle. The majority of the program’s funding will be dedicated to fellowships at Cornell Tech, thereby ensuring a steady level of financial support when students transition to their graduate program. It creates a special opportunity for students who might otherwise consider Cornell and graduate education outside their reach.
“At Cornell Tech, we are dedicated to increasing and diversifying access to tech education. We deeply thank Robert Smith for his leadership and for creating the Tech Scholars program, giving students the opportunity to experience our unique graduate programs, connect with the growing New York City tech industry, and join the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs,” said Dan Huttenlocher, dean of Cornell Tech.
Smith’s gift, including the contribution from the foundation of which he is the founding director, is one of the largest ever from an African-American philanthropist to a higher education institution.
“I have had the privilege of being a Cornell graduate with a degree in engineering,” said Smith. “I credit much to my career success to being an engineer by training. Engineers solve problems and fix things. Along my career I have become increasingly concerned by the lack of diversity across the engineering and tech disciplines. My direct intention here is to work directly with Cornell Tech and Cornell Engineering, in New York City and in Ithaca, to create direct on-ramps for African-Americans and young women to enter tech so that they can help lead us into the fourth industrial revolution.”
Under Smith’s leadership, Vista Equity Partners has become one of the most successful investment firms in the world. Smith’s accomplishments have landed him at No. 268 on the most recent Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans. He is the only African-American male on that list.
Smith is also well known for his philanthropy, receiving the SEO Reginald F. Lewis Achievement Award, the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the Robert Toigo Foundation, and the Ripple of Hope Award from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, among other accolades.
He is the founding director of the Fund II Foundation, a nonprofit organization working to advance social change and preserve African-American culture, human rights, music education, the environment and American values such as entrepreneurship and innovation.