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Historic gift enhances diversity and opportunity

Young student wearing black blazer with Sather Gate in background

A sizable gift from one of Berkeley’s most prominent benefactor families will greatly enhance access and opportunity for many of UC Berkeley’s most deserving students.

The university announced in August that 1964 graduate Bob and Colleen Haas gave $24 million to support undergraduate students, a leadership gift that also helps shine the spotlight on the campus’s fundraising effort, Light the Way: The Campaign for Berkeley.

The Haases’ investment included $10 million in matching funds for the Haas Family Fiat Lux Scholarship, one of the single largest scholarship gifts in Berkeley’s history. The matching gift means that additional donors have the opportunity to join the effort and have their scholarship contributions matched by the Haas family dollar-for-dollar.

This extraordinary support will not only double the Fiat Lux Scholarship endowment to $20 million, it will double the potential impact every matched donation can have on the lives of deserving Berkeley scholars. The scholarships will also help the students avoid the worry of paying for school, allowing them to join clubs, explore classes, and pursue research opportunities instead of working side jobs or worrying how they will pay off student loans after graduating.

The Haas family also contributed $14 million to permanently endow the Haas Scholars Program, which for more than 20 years has cultivated cohorts of Berkeley students from diverse backgrounds to focus on a specialized, yearlong senior capstone research project.

“Through these generous endowments, the Haas family continues to show their deep commitment to building a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive Berkeley campus,” said Chancellor Carol Christ. “The students supported by these scholarships all have unique experiences and perspectives that will not only benefit our campus, but through their achievements, the world as a whole.”

The combined $24 million donation is just one of many gifts the Haas family has made over time to Berkeley to support student experiences, particularly for those who have been underserved.

“Attending Berkeley is a life-changing experience,” Bob Haas said. “My time as an undergraduate shaped my skills, challenged comfortable assumptions and enlarged my possibilities. As a result, I understood what a difference a Berkeley education could make for others — especially those who had less opportunities than I had.”

As a lifelong supporter of civil rights and social justice, Colleen Haas said that it brings her great happiness to have the opportunity to support underrepresented students who have been historically marginalized in higher education.

A stepping stone to success

Daisy Boeckmann, a fourth-year media studies major and Fiat Lux Scholarship recipient, is one such student. Boeckmann’s path to Berkeley wasn’t easy — when she was nine, her father, a Guatemalan immigrant to the United States, died in a traffic collision while visiting his native country. A year later, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

With money an issue in her Carson, Calif., home, Boeckmann had to grow up fast, but despite the family’s hardships, she excelled in school. “Education is something that is valued in our family,” she said. “I wanted to accomplish all the things my parents, my father, never had the chance to. It is what pushes me to persevere.”

In 2016, Boeckmann graduated near the top of her high school class, was accepted to Berkeley, and won the Fiat Lux Scholarship — providing her with full financial support. Her dream had come true.

“Each day, as I walk through campus and see the emblem at the top of Sather Gate and to know what it means, ‘Let there be light,’ I am reminded of why I’m here,” she said. “There is a light they saw in me. They really believe in me.”

Similarly, being a part of the Haas Scholars Program can change the trajectory of a student’s life.

In 1997, as the daughter of South Korean immigrants, Lillian Park was part of the first cohort of Haas Scholars. Even in its infancy, Park says, the program gave her the tools to articulate her research goals and the presentation skills that led to her earning a second degree, in Berkeley’s Ph.D. program in psychology.

Now, as a professor and department chair at SUNY Old Westbury in New York, Park said she has created a community with her students that was inspired by her time as a Haas Scholar.

“I loved being in that community of scholars,” she said. “I loved how we would get together and talk about our projects, even though we were in different fields and doing very different things. What we had in common was our passion, and that was something that we all understood about each other.”

For Bob Haas, potential donors looking to make the biggest impact with their time and money need look no further, as supporting students such as Boeckmann and Park is a real investment in the future.

“Berkeley really stands out because of the way your gift can make ours a better society through the student discoveries that come out of its laboratories and through the transformations students go through,” he said. “If you want to do something that’s truly satisfying, reach your hand out and help somebody for whom it will make a difference.”

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