Robert F. Smith, founder and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, announced a gift of $15 million to the College of Engineering at Cornell University. The funds will be used to establish an endowed scholarship fund to provide financial aid for engineering students, with a focus on assisting undergraduate students who come to Cornell from urban high schools, and graduate students who attended historically Black colleges and universities.
The gift will establish an undergraduate scholarship fund and graduate student fellowship fund, both in Smith’s name. The scholarship fund will provide at least seven undergraduates a year with up to $45,000 in grants that do not need to be repaid; the graduate fellowship fund will support approximately 12 master’s students and five doctoral students. Smith’s philanthropy will also establish the Robert F. Smith Student Success Fund, which will provide support for student participation in national conferences, professional development training, connections with employers, mentoring programs, and immersive learning opportunities.
“My goal has always been to lift up and provide opportunity for those who have historically faced barriers to success,” Smith said. “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 2019, Smith, while serving as the commencement speaker, told the graduates of Morehouse College in Atlanta that he would commit up to $40 million dollars to eliminate the student debt of all 396 graduates of the Class of 2019. In 2020, Smith created The Student Freedom Initiative, a nonprofit organization established with a $50 million grant that helps STEM students at 11 historically Black colleges and universities. The program does not eliminate all student debt but offers students at these schools loans at far lower rates and with easier repayment terms.