U. of Houston Medical School Lands $50 Million From Billionaire Tilman Fertitta
Houston billionaire Tilman Fertitta pledged $50 million to the University of Houston College of Medicine pay for new faculty, scholarships, fellowships, and research programs. The medical school has been renamed the Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine.
Plus, the Obama Foundation receives $100 million from Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky, and five universities, a mathematics institute, and a hospital in Connecticut landed big gifts.
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A roundup of notable gifts compiled by the Chronicle:
University of Houston College of Medicine
Tilman Fertitta and his family pledged $50 million to pay for new faculty, scholarships, fellowships, and research programs. The medical school has been renamed the Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine.
Of the total, Fertitta has directed $20 million to establish the Fertitta Dean’s Endowed Fund to support research and $10 million to create a fund to endow graduate research stipends and fellowships for medical students. Of the remaining money, $10 million will be used to support five new endowed chairs, and $10 million will upgrade the medical school’s facilities and equipment, as well as cover additional program costs.
Fertitta founded and leads Fertitta Entertainment, a company that owns the Landry’s restaurant chain, the Golden Nugget casinos and hotels, and the Houston Rockets, a professional basketball team. He has served on the University of Houston System’s Board of Regents since 2009 and was elected chairman in 2014.
Brian Chesky gave $100 million to the Obama Foundation for a scholarship program that will reduce student debt for college students pursuing careers in public service, give them travel stipends, and connect them to a network of leaders.
Students in their junior and senior years of college who plan to work in public service after they graduate will receive $25,000 a year for tuition for their final two years of college as part of the Voyager Scholarship, the Obama-Chesky Scholarship for Public Service. The program also provides them with a $10,000 stipend and free Airbnb housing to create a summer work-travel project related to the field they hope to enter, and a travel stipend of $2,000 a year for 10 years so they can continue to travel and forge connections with other public-service leaders.
Chesky co-founded the online lodging company Airbnb in 2008 and currently serves as its CEO. Forbes estimates his net worth at more than $9 billion.
Mathematical Sciences Research Institute
Two couples, James and Marilyn Simons and Henry and Marsha Laufer, pledged $35 million apiece for a combined $70 million to support the institute’s endowment and its efforts to advance basic research and raise the public profile of mathematics.
James Simons is a mathematician who founded Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund in East Setauket, N.Y. Marilyn Simons is an economist. Henry Laufer is a fellow mathematician and a former vice president of research at Renaissance Technologies. Marsha Laufer is a speech-language pathologist.
Florida Atlantic University
John and Ann Wood pledged $28 million to back scholarships for students enrolled in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine. The financial aid will be part of the medical school’s effort to cover the tuition of every FAU medical-school student so they won’t have to graduate with a lot of student debt.
The Woods founded Pres-T-Con Ltd., a Trinidad construction and concrete company that built bridges, piers, and cruise-ship terminals throughout the Caribbean, in 1965. They sold the company in 2005. This is the third gift the Woods have given the College of Medicine. In 2021 they established the Robert A. Wood FAU Medical Scholars Fund to support 10 medical students through all four years of medical school.
Americans for Ben-Gurion University
Michael Sonnenfeldt and Katja Goldman pledged $20 million through their Goldman-Sonnenfeldt Foundation to create the Goldman Sonnenfeldt School of Sustainability and Climate Change at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev where researchers will work to develop new technologies to fight climate change.
Sonnenfeldt is a New York real-estate developer who founded TIGER 21, a membership organization for wealthy business people. He previously founded several real-estate and investment-related companies, including Real Estate Resources Corporation, Emmes & Company, and MUUS & Company. Sonnenfeldt serves on the university’s Board of Governors.
Katja Goldman co-authored the Empire Kosher Chicken Cookbook: 225 Easy and Elegant Recipes for Poultry and Great Side Dishes. She co-founded Slice of Life Bakery in Cambridge, Mass., and previously served as executive chef for Barclay Bank.
George and Carol Bauer gave $20 million to build Norwalk Hospital’s Bauer Family Pavilion, a new hospital tower, which is part of the hospital’s campuswide expansion project.
George Bauer is a retired IBM executive. The couple are longtime donors to charity who have given several large gifts to the Norwalk, Conn., hospital. They gave $15 million in 2019 for building projects and $2.5 million in 2011 for an emergency-care center. They also helped establish the Jeffrey Peter Bauer Newborn Intensive Care Unit in memory of their late infant son of that name and the Carol Bauer Nursing Scholarship.
Carol Bauer has been a Norwalk Hospital volunteer for more than 40 years and serves as one of the hospital’s volunteer chaplains. She specializes in child-maternal health and serving families who have lost an infant. George Bauer serves on the hospital’s Board of Directors.
Vanderbilt Law School
W. Weldon and Elaine Wilson pledged $17.5 million to augment the Weldon Wilson Scholarship, which the couple established in 2011 in honor of Weldon Wilson’s 25th law-school reunion. The scholarship is primarily awarded to graduates of public colleges and universities.
Weldon Wilson is vice chairman of Resolution Life Group Holdings, an international life-insurance company with its U.S. headquarters in Stamford, Conn. Previously he served as CEO of Swiss Reinsurance’s North American life-reinsurance business. He earned a JD degree from the law school in 1986. The scholarship is geared toward public-university graduates because he and his siblings all received their undergraduate degrees from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, their hometown.
Cornell University College of Engineering
Robert Smith gave $15 million to create an undergraduate scholarship fund and a graduate-student fellowship fund, both of which will be named for Smith. The scholarship will be awarded to engineering students who come to university from urban high schools, and the graduate fellowship will go to students who attended historically Black colleges and universities.
The scholarship fund will provide at least seven undergraduates a year with up to $45,000 in grants, and the graduate-fellowship fund will support approximately 12 master’s degree students and five doctoral students. The money will also be used to establish the Robert F. Smith Student Success Fund, which will support student participation in national conferences, professional-development training, mentoring, and other programs.
Smith graduated from Cornell in 1985. In 2000, he founded Vista Equity Partners, an Austin, Tex., private-equity firm that invests in fledgling technology businesses. He has given extensively to charity in recent years, especially to efforts to reduce college-loan debt among students at historically Black colleges and universities. He has appeared on the Chronicle’s annual Philanthropy 50 list of the biggest donors four times since 2005.
Daniel and Gayle D’Aniello gave $10 million to support the Syracuse Abroad Florence program, a study-abroad program in Florence, Italy. The program will be renamed for the donors. The money will be used to expand financial aid for students who could not otherwise afford to participate in the program, with a focus on lower-income students, nontraditionally aged students, and student veterans.
In addition, it will support the program’s efforts to help student veterans navigate the complex process of using their GI Bill benefits for study-abroad projects and help to provide support services unique to the needs of veterans. The money will also be used to pay for upgrades and enhancements to Villa Rossa, the historic Florence villa that is home to the program.
Daniel D’Aniello is a co-founder of the Carlyle Group, a private-equity firm in Washington. Before helping to found the company in 1987, he served as vice president for finance and development at Marriott Corporation. He graduated from the university in 1968. The D’Aniellos are longtime supporters of his alma mater. They gave $30 million last year to support the D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families and $20 million in 2018 to build a home for the center.
To learn about other big donations, see our database of gifts of $1 million or more, which is updated regularly.