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Corporate Connections:
UC San Diego Alumni Make
A Business of Supporting Their Alma Mater

Alums assist the future generation of students through annual scholarship support

May 7, 2008

By Jade Berggren

How can corporate responsibility and alumni giving go hand in hand?  Just ask University of California, San Diego, alumnus Michael Robertson, ’90. After founding MP3.com and taking it public, Robertson was approached by UC San Diego to participate in a campaign to encourage student enrollment.

Photo of Michael Robertson, ’90, and his wife Leslie, with Chancellor Marye Anne Fox at last year’s Chancellor’s Challenge 5K Run/Walk for Scholars.
Michael Robertson, ’90, and his wife Leslie,
with Chancellor Marye Anne Fox at last year’s Chancellor’s Challenge 5K Run/Walk for Scholars.

“I was happy to help not only because I received my education from UC San Diego, but the San Diego Supercomputer Center at UCSD provided tools that helped me develop my company,” says Robertson.

Since then, Robertson and his wife, Leslie, have forged ahead to help UC San Diego and its students.  With returns from MP3.com, the couple founded the Robertson Education Empowerment Foundation, or REEF, to benefit UC San Diego students.  The foundation provides students with financial aid based on an agreement that upon graduation, students will pay back a small percentage of their earnings to the foundation’s fund, thus helping to ensure the same opportunities for future students.

“I focus on efforts which have immediate impact for young people,” notes Robertson.  “The future of tomorrow depends on the development of human capital today.  I’m concerned about students having both the opportunity to attend college and to do so without taking on a huge debt they must struggle with for years after college.”

For Leslie and Michael, helping alleviate student debt also means annual participation in UC San Diego’s Chancellor’s Challenge 5K Run/Walk for Scholars to benefit undergraduate scholarships.  Not only do they sponsor the event through REEF, the couple has increased the stakes, creating a challenge of their own.  For each male who finishes ahead of Michael, he donates $25.  Leslie sets the challenge for female runners, giving $25 for each woman who crosses the finish line before her.  Last year, the couple’s total gift to the Chancellor’s Challenge 5K scholarship fund was more than $11,000.

But why put themselves to the test?  In addition to raising funds for scholarships, Robertson adds: “The Chancellor’s Challenge 5K keeps us in shape knowing we have to compete with a bunch of youngsters—who will cost us $25 each if they beat us!  We count down the training days until the race.”

Corporate Engagement

Local UC San Diego alumnus, Greg Wong, ’90, has found another way to support undergraduate scholarships together with his employer, Amylin Pharmaceuticals, Inc.  Wong recently helped organize more than 100 of his fellow Amylin colleagues to participate in the Chancellor’s Challenge 5K to raise funds for student scholarships at his alma mater.  Since he became captain of “Team Amylin,” the group has grown exponentially from 25 participants in 2005.  He plans to help raise even more scholarship dollars by challenging other local companies to match Amylin’s level of participation in the next race slated for October 17.

“UC San Diego has been a big part of my life since graduation,” says Wong.  “I wish everyone could be so lucky to get as much from their school as I did.  I feel strongly that the cost of an education should not be a barrier to those who are accepted.”

Fortunately for Wong, his employer fosters the same philosophy.  Amylin has devoted longstanding support to many areas of the UC San Diego campus, ranging from student scholarships and internships to faculty support and outreach programs to educate the public about important UC San Diego research which has local impact, national influence and global reach.  Amylin has been a solid supporter of the Chancellor’s Challenge 5K for six years.  In addition to encouraging its employees to support scholarships, Amylin Vice President of Corporate Services Reed Vickerman acts as co-chair and emcee of the annual event. The biopharmaceutical company also serves as a Chancellor’s Sponsor giving $15,000 annually toward undergraduate research scholarships.

“UC San Diego is a great resource for education, collaboration and talent,” notes Wong. “Every biotech company in the area owes something to UCSD.”

Paying It Forward

Approximately two years ago, Amylin Pharmaceuticals also encouraged its business affiliate, Siemens Building Technologies, Inc. to get involved with supporting scholarships at UC San Diego.  Alumnus Mike Dietsch, ’94, who works in the San Diego office of Siemens—a global powerhouse in building technology solutions, electronics and engineering—joined colleague Dan Kilgore in lending a listening ear and championing the idea to the company.

"I was very fortunate in that my family was able to help me with the tuition and costs of attending UC San Diego," says Dietsch.  "But I believe that there were many people who were just as deserving, if not more, of receiving the same education I had at UCSD, but were not able to for financial reasons."

Siemens, which fosters a strong culture of philanthropy, wholeheartedly agreed to give its support to UC San Diego students. The local office devoted $12,500 from its operating budget, which was then matched by management from Siemens headquarters, to total $25,000 in funds for undergraduate student scholarships as part of the Chancellor’s Challenge 5K in 2006.  Siemens then repeated its generous gift again in 2007.

“Siemens is a strong supporter of corporate philanthropy,” said Dietsch.  “And giving to UC San Diego students was a great fit.  Not only are we able to give back to the community, but Siemens stands to benefit greatly when we end up recruiting some of those same students to work for our company."

Photo: from left, Chancellor Marye Anne Fox with Mike Dietsch, ‘94 , Dave Baarstad and Joe Longfield of Siemens Building Technologies, Inc.
From left, Chancellor Marye Anne Fox with Mike Dietsch, ‘94 , Dave Baarstad and Joe Longfield
of Siemens Building Technologies, Inc.

By working with his employer to get involved with UC San Diego, Dietsch was able to expand his own capability of helping others to receive the same opportunities he had. When asked what advice he would give to others who wish to engage their employer in such philanthropic efforts, Dietsch responds: "If you don't ask the question, you'll never know the answer.  Great companies are capable of great things, but sometimes it takes just one person to show them where there is great need."

Each year, engaged alumni join forces with each other and their businesses as part of the Chancellor’s Challenge 5K to give back to something they believe in—helping other students receive the same opportunities they did at UC San Diego.  Generous alumni supporters including Gary Curtis, ’69; Eric T. Engelson, ’82; Jeffery Hooker, ’95 and his wife, Charlene, ’91; Robert S. Marren, ’86, and Amy Shuss, ’87; Peter Preuss, ’67; Alec Rodney, ’88 and his wife, Mary, ’88; Alan Swinney, ’89; Pamela Youngdahl Turner, ’69; and Rachel YorkWilliams, ’71; and, have also joined Robertson, Wong and Dietsch in this philanthropic endeavor. And to them, the university and its students will forever be grateful.


Media Contact: Jade Berggren, 858-822-5309

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