October 23, 2016

Cornell Dedicates Engineering School, Funded by Alumnus

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Over 300 Cornell faculty, alumni, students and guests congregated in Klarman Hall Friday to celebrate the dedication of the Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, a testament to the benefactor’s $50 million donation.

The University decided to name the building for the donor after Robert F. Smith ’85 donated to Cornell’s College of Engineering in January. The multi-million dollar gift will be used to create undergraduate scholarships, graduate fellowships and diversity initiatives, specifically for students traditionally underrepresented in engineering, including minorities and women.

Smith’s gift will also fund the Robert Frederick Smith Tech Scholars Program, which will help high school seniors who require financial aid to earn an undergraduate degree from Cornell Engineering and a technical master’s degree from Cornell Tech.

“My intention here is to work directly with Cornell Tech and Cornell Engineering … to create on-ramps for African Americans and young women to enter tech so that they can help lead us into the fourth industrial revolution,” Smith said.

Interim President Hunter R. Rawlings called the donation a “very inspiring gift,” saying it “has a vision … to increase diversity and appreciation of diversity at Cornell University.”

Smith said he hopes his donation — which aims to bolster diversity by making a Cornell education more accessible — will uphold Ezra Cornell’s mission statement of founding “an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.”

“Smith has shown his confidence in us,” said Abraham Stroock, director of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. “This is called keeping Ezra’s promise.”

Smith said the vision underlying his donation is based in an ambition to promote economic mobility by removing obstacles to higher education.

“We live in an extraordinary time when intellectual property has become the new currency of business,” Smith said. “There is only one goal left to achieve economic mobility, and that is democratizing access to world class education.”

Smith studied chemical engineering at Cornell and is the founder, chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners — a private equity fund.

He is also the founding director and president of the Fund II Foundation — a nonprofit organization that works to advance social change and preserve African-American culture, human rights, music education, the environment, entrepreneurship and innovation.