Skip to content

Billionaire Robert F. Smith Announces New $15 Million Gift For Engineering Student Aid At Cornell University

Billionaire Robert F. Smith Announces New $15 Million Gift For Engineering Student Aid At Cornell University

He’s back at it again!

Billionaire Robert F. Smith has announced a new $15 million gift for engineering student aid at Cornell University, the Cornell Chronicle reports.

Robert F. Smith is an alum of Cornell, graduating from the Ivy League University with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. He went on to become a billionaire, the founder and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, a market-leading investment firm. Over the years, Smith has been very generous with his fortune, returning to his alma mater in 2016 to donate $50 million to advance teaching and research in the field of chemical and biomolecular engineering, provide scholarships, graduate fellowships and offer program funding to assist with recruiting and supporting underserved students. The donation earned him a school in his honor, titled the Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. 

“The Smith School is committed to tackling systemic issues in the broader scientific community that have historically prevented exceptional minds from realizing their full potential. Robert’s generous giving is enabling us to make significant strides toward that goal. By supporting student access to an education that will cultivate the best problem solvers and leaders of tomorrow, he is helping us keep Ezra Cornell’s promise of ‘...any person…any study,’” said Susan Daniel, the William C. Hooey Director of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. 

Smith has also paid off the debt for the entire 2019 graduating class of Morehouse and their parents, donated another $50 million to support STEM students at HBCUscreated more than a million dollars worth of microgrants for HBCU students, among other philanthropic efforts. Now his alma mater has honored him again, awarding Smith with the Distinguished Alumni Award on behalf of Cornell Engineering, aimed at recognizing engineering alumni whose accomplishments bring distinction to the university. The school recognized Smith with the honor in 2020, recently hosting a post-COVID event to formally give him the award. During his acceptance speech, Smith announced he would be gifting the school another $15 million to help create aid for engineering students, focusing on undergraduate students who come from urban high schools and graduate students who attended HBCUs. 

“It truly is an honor to receive the College of Engineering’s Distinguished Alumni Award. 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,” said Smith.

The donation will provide a fund for both undergraduate and graduate students, providing at least seven undergraduates with up to $45,000 annually in grants that they don’t need to pay back. The graduate fund will also support 12 master's students and five doctoral students annually. In addition to the grants and fellowships, the donation will also establish the Robert F. Smith Student Success Fund, offering financial support to students looking to participate in national conferences, professional development training, mentoring programs and immersive learning opportunities. 

Lynden Archer, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering, spoke about the significance of Smith’s donation, saying, “This gift will create critical pathways for talented students to become the innovative, future-ready leaders that industry and academia desperately need. We are deeply grateful to Robert for expanding opportunities for our students, who - as he exemplifies - are prepared to excel and make meaningful impacts in essentially any field.”

Cornell Engineering has a goal of increasing diversity, equity and inclusion, with the hope of bringing the number of undergraduate students who receive aid to 1,000. Over the last two decades, the university has ramped up their financial aid efforts, creating aid at a rate that wholly exceeds the annual increase in tuition, tripling the total annual institutional grant aid in the last twenty years. Smith’s gift helps bolster that mission even more. 

“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. His leadership in advancing equity and making higher education accessible to all students will have an impact for generations to come,” said Martha E. Pollack, Cornell President. 

We couldn't agree more. Thank you for all you continue to do to empower the next generation Mr. Smith. 

(l to r) Lynden Archer & Robert F. Smith. Photo Courtesy of Simon Wheeler/Cornell University