On May 13, Cornell Engineering presented billionaire and philanthropist Robert F. Smith with a Distinguished Alumni Award. During his acceptance speech, the founder and CEO of Vista Equity Partners announced he was continuing his altruistic endeavors by gifting $15 million to Cornell’s College of Engineering, his alma mater. His donation will subsidize undergraduate students who attend Cornell from underserved and underrepresented communities and who have attended Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), according to the Cornell Chronicles.
“I am grateful to Robert for sharing our commitment to welcoming the most talented and promising students, regardless of background or ability to pay, and helping us ensure that cost never becomes an obstacle to a Cornell education,” said Cornell President Martha E. Pollack. “His leadership in advancing equity and making higher education accessible to all students will have an impact for generations to come.”
Smith established three eponymous funds, The Robert F. Smith Undergraduate Scholarship Fund, Robert F. Smith Graduate Fellowship Fund, and Robert F. Smith Student Success Fund. The scholarships will provide financial support for at least seven undergraduates per year who can access the scholarship fund with $45,000 in grants which require no repayment. Twelve students pursuing their master’s and five doctoral students can apply for the graduate student fellowship. Lastly, the Robert F. Smith Student Success Fund will support students participating in national conferences, professional development training, networking with future employers, mentoring programs, and immersive learning opportunities.
Smith is committed to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education.
“It truly is an honor to receive the College of Engineering’s Distinguished Alumni Award,” said Smith, who also serves on the Cornell Tech Council and is an honorary member of the Cornell Engineering College Council.
“My goal has always been to lift up and provide opportunity for those who have historically faced barriers to success. My hope is that these funds will elevate more students and afford them the opportunity to attend my alma mater and pursue careers in STEM, as well as continue to support the diverse pipeline of extraordinary talent that Cornell produces.”
In 2016, Smith and the Fund II Foundation donated $50 million to incentivize transformative college instruction and research in chemical and biomolecular engineering by providing scholarships, graduate fellowships, and program funding to support underrepresented students.
To acknowledge his generosity, Cornell named a facility the Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in his honor.
Smith is a staunch advocate for education, and this is not the first time he has shown great benefaction. In 2019, he paid the student loans for approximately 400 Morehouse College students. Morehouse President David A. Thomas lauded Smith’s largesse as a “liberation gift” for graduates who can begin their careers without crushing student loan debt, according to Ed Surge.
Students will be eligible to receive financial assistance from the funds at Cornell starting in the Fall of the 2022 semester.