Santa Clara University celebrates completion of $1 billion fundraising campaign

Santa Clara University celebrates completion of $1 billion fundraising campaign

Santa Clara University marked a major milestone Saturday night, announcing the completion of a $1 billion fundraising campaign that university leaders hope will significantly raise the Jesuit school’s national profile and make it more accessible for first-generation students.

Santa Clara President Julie Sullivan said the success of the “Innovating With a Mission” campaign in less than 10 years — and the fact that it had more than 46,000 donors — pointed toward the university’s proven record of success. “People believe in the value proposition of Santa Clara,” she said.

The announcement was made at the 58th annual Golden Circle Theatre Party, which returned to being an in-person gala event for the first time since 2020. John Legend was the headline performer at the Center for the Performing Arts in San Jose, and the Grammy-winning international superstar had a lively opening act as Sullivan was joined by Board of Trustees Chair Larry Sonsini and the two couples who co-chaired the campaign — Jeff Miller and Karen Miller and John A. Sobrato and Sue Sobrato — were on stage to share highlights.

After the show, more than 2,500 guests traveled over to the nearby Signia by Hilton hotel for dinner and more entertainment.

Santa Clara University President Julie H. Sullivan speaks at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif., on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022. Santa Clara University is partnering with the city of Santa Clara and Silicon Valley Power to launch a scholarship program for students to pursue careers in sustainability. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) 

Sonsini said the campaign accomplishes several things the university needs to rise to the next level nationally: improving its infrastructure, increasing accessibility and affordability for students and increasing its endowments.

“Santa Clara really has a mission and that’s to expand the impact of the university,” said Sonsini, who said he is proud UC Berkeley grad but that he was drawn to Santa Clara because of its mission and its emphasis on ethics. “We recognize that we’re in the center of innovation, but given where technology is going, I felt that element was a good balance and a necessity.”

If you’ve been to the campus lately, you’d see the physical transformation already has begun, with the addition or renovation of seven buildings including the Sobrato Campus for Discovery and Innovation, the Finn Residence Hall, the Schott Athletic Excellence Center and the Dowd Art and Art History Building.

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 15: Students walk past the state-of-the-art John A. and Susan Sobrato Campus for Discovery and Innovation in Santa Clara, Calif., on Friday, October 15, 2021. The Sobrato family donated $100 million to help the university construct the new 270,000 square foot center. (Dylan Bouscher/Bay Area News Group) 

Perhaps more important, Sullivan said the university raised more than $280 million for new scholarships, and with its LEAD Scholars program is working to bring more first-generation college students succeed.

“When I think about the changing demographics of the college-age population in our country today, it sets us up in continuing to do better attracting an increasingly diverse student body,” Sullivan said.

Hydeia Wysinger, a psychology and public health double major who expects to graduate in 2025, is one of those students who was the first in her family to attend college. The El Sobrante native said she was excited to be the student speaker at the Golden Circle event, where she talked about her experience as a LEAD Scholar, including getting to move into campus a week early and getting specialized housing and LEAD-specific classes.

“No matter the institution, college is going to be expensive,” she said. “This campaign and having donors who support all aspects of student life — academics and that extracurricular portion and what students do outside of the classroom — is so important.”

The campaign launched in July 2014, but its public phase was announced at Golden Circle in 2019 — when $570 million had been raised. Since then, Santa Clara has had multiple leadership changes in the president’s office, and had to navigate its way through a worldwide pandemic, just like other institutions. There were times, Vice President of University Relations Jim Lyons said, when it looked like they might not make it, but the trustees, alumni and other donors always found ways to step up.

Sullivan came on board in March 2022 as the first woman and the first layperson to sit in the president’s chair. She said she feels “blessed and humbled” to oversee the campaign with the ball so close to the goal line.

“It brings sense of humility to really appreciate all that has come before me, the tremendous effort people have put into building this university,” she said.

Chris Wilder, left, and San Jose Chamber of Commerce CEO Leah Toeniskoetter pose together at the San Jose Chamber of Commerce Inaugural at the Silicon Valley Capital Club on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024. Wilder, the former executive director of the VMC Foundation, received the Outstanding Leadership San Jose Alumni award at the event. (Trisha Leeper Photography) 

SAN JOSE CHAMBER GETS GLITZY: The San Jose Chamber of Commerce Inaugural was held Thursday night at the Silicon Valley Capital Club, and if — like me — you’re wondering what that means, it’s an event to ring in the new business year. Nicholas Adams, the chamber’s chairman of the board, said it’s modeled after similarly named events held by other big metro chambers.

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The business group used the swanky dinner to welcome new CEO Leah Toeniskoetter and to present its community impact awards. The late Thang Do of Aedis Architects received the Executive of the Year award, which was accepted by his wife, Grace; Toni Vanwinkle, vice president of digital employee experience for Adobe, accepted the Business of the Year award on behalf of the San Jose company; Breakthrough Silicon Valley founder and CEO John Hiester was presented with the Nonprofit of the Year award; and the Outstanding Leadership San Jose Alumni award went to former VMC Foundation Executive Director Chris Wilder, who survived a debilitating stroke in 2021.

NEW YEAR CELEBRATION: The Chinese Historical and Cultural Project had a lot to celebrate at its anniversary dinner Wednesday night at China Stix restaurant in Santa Clara, an event that doubled as an early Chinese New Year party. Co-founder Gerrye Wong said that membership in the group dropped dramatically during the pandemic to less than 70 people, but President David Yick made bumping those numbers up a priority — and the membership rolls now top 300. Nearly all of them seemed to have packed the restaurant, where they heard a keynote from retired KGO-TV newsman David Louie.

Yick says the next goal is to recruit enough docents to allow the CHCP’s museum, housed in a replica of the Ng Shing Gung temple at San Jose’s History Park, to open to visitors every weekend. Go to to find out more.

TRIBUTE: The Tech Interactive in San Jose is mourning the loss of tech executive and philanthropist Ann Bowers, a former board chair who also served as interim CEO. Bowers — who was the first VP of Human Resources for Apple and was married to Intel co-founder Robert Noyce until his death in 1990 — died Jan. 24 at the age of 86.

Tech Interactive CEO Katrina Stevens said everyone at the Tech was grateful to Bowers for her visionary leadership and her support in founding the Bowers Institute, a landmark education program to train teachers in the San Jose area and provide resources so they can incorporate STEM learning in their classrooms. “Ann was always acutely aware of the ways people were unfairly divided from opportunity,” Stevens said. “Her belief that education was the best way to erase these divides animated her work at The Tech and so much of her wider philanthropy.”