Strolling through Santa Clara University, one would glimpse the name of one of the most recognized philanthropists in Silicon Valley–from the Sobrato Technology Center to the Sobrato Hall to the Abby Sobrato Mall. A recent Santa Clara University press release revealed that, “since 1996, the Sobrato Family has donated nearly $375 million in cash and real estate to educational, health, human services, and other charities.” Coming soon will be another building bearing the Sobrato name. Recently, John A. Sobrato and his wife Susan generously gifted $100 million to Santa Clara University to support the funding and building of the Sobrato Campus for Discovery and Innovation, currently envisioned as a 300,000 square-foot complex with four tiered stories. The facility will focus on the learning and exploration of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects. An alum of Santa Clara University, Sobrato discussed his gift, the largest Santa Clara University has received to date, at a Jan. 24 press conference held at The Sobrato Organization, a real estate development firm located in Cupertino.
“I hear from high-tech executives that we deal with that the average student that’s coming out of college today really isn’t ready to solve any business problems and it’s hopeful that in the new building there’d be a whole new spirit of teaching, a new way to learn and that’s basically combining all the various disciplines under one roof, giving [students] an opportunity to collaborate,” said Sobrato, expressing his desire for a stronger connection between Santa Clara University and the high-tech community. “A lot of these world problems the students are going to be expected to work on really take a combination of disciplines, rather than just a particular way of engineering, a particular way of neuroscience. You need to combine all these various disciplines to really come up with a better product.”
Sobrato explained that the Sobrato Campus for Discovery and Innovation will adhere to a less traditional classroom model.
“The teaching spaces are going to have a lot more soft seating than what you’d expect at a school,” said Sobrato. “There’d be a lot of furniture that’d encourage teamwork [with] four or five or six students working on a particular project, maybe from various disciplines sitting around the same table [and there will be] very flexible furniture that can be moved around depending on how needs change. It’s going to be built out more like what you’d expect in a high-tech Silicon Valley [Google-type] complex. It’d be a lot more open and more transparent and with fewer hard walls. There’d be wings that are very transparent that will be used to showcase and put on display the projects the students are working on together.”
When asked if the STEM program that the new building is housing can eventually expand to a STEAM program with incorporation of the Arts, Sobrato responded that it would be great if this could take place eventually. Sobrato named global poverty and sustainability as society’s challenges that he hoped a well-rounded STEM education can help tackle and added that these issues could be recognized through the lens of Jesuit values and a sense of service to humanity.
Speaking of Jesuit values, Sobrato credited his experience studying at Santa Clara University for shaping his altruistic endeavors and professional success.
“The Jesuits believe in giving back…and [this value is found] at Santa Clara University,” he said. “The university has been a real part of our success–I graduated there in 1960. My son and my deceased daughter-in-law graduated in 1983. My two oldest grandsons graduated five or six years ago. So we really feel we have a connection to Santa Clara. We think Santa Clara is a good reason why our business has been successful because of the education we had there and that’s why we’re making this gift.”
Attending the press conference was Jim Lyons, Vice President for University Relations at Santa Clara University.
“Sometimes Santa Clara University is lost in the shadow of Stanford and U.C. Berkeley and this [gift] changes that perception because not only do we have the ability to educate students in the Jesuit tradition, but now we also have the ability to provide world class facilities in the area of STEM,” said Lyons. “We and Santa Clara families, which include students, alum, families and friends of the university, are so grateful to John and Sue. If you go online [to our school’s social media sites], hundreds of people have been saying ‘thank you’ to the Sobratos.”
Construction of the Sobrato Campus for Discovery and Innovation is expected to take place at the end of 2018. ZGF Architects LLP is designing the facility.