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Honoring graduation, paying it forward

Cal parents and their new alumnus make gift to support computer science students

By David Peterkofsky

Catherine and Gary Briggs are big believers in the power of philanthropy to enhance education. But they aren’t just generous donors: They serve on UC Berkeley’s Cal Parents Board, and Catherine has helped her alma mater, Dartmouth College, establish a leadership women’s philanthropy program. In short, they are happy to roll up their sleeves and inspire others to give.

“She’s extremely good at asking for money,” jokes Gary Briggs, who served as Facebook’s first chief marketing officer from 2013–18 and now is chairman of Hawkfish, a political marketing and analytics firm funded by Michael Bloomberg. “She’s not shy, which is wonderful.”

With a keen understanding of higher-education fundraising, it was just a matter of time before the couple honored their son Jonathan Briggs’ 2020 graduation from Berkeley with a substantial gift of their own to the university. In support of Jonathan’s department — and with his input throughout the process — the family worked with the campus to create an endowment to support the CS Scholars Program, which provides access and mentoring to students from diverse backgrounds who have little or no experience in computer science or programming.

“Ensuring the pipeline for diverse candidates is important to us,” said Catherine Briggs. “Jonathan was really challenged with the computer science major. He’s very self-motivated, but it was not easy. This program is great, and we’re happy to support it.”

In addition to the Catherine and Gary Briggs’ service on the Cal Parents Board and Catherine Briggs’ fundraising experience at Dartmouth, they are also leadership-level donors to their shared alma mater of Northwestern University, where they both received M.B.A. degrees.

The Briggs family has found that many people, parents included, mistakenly believe that public universities such as UC Berkeley have less of a need for private support because they receive public funding. Gifts such as their own, they hope, can help to dispel that notion.

“In reality,” Gary Briggs said, “most universities are selling what they have at a discount — the funding for students to be able to attend becomes challenged by the difference between the school’s income and its expenses. There’s definitely an opportunity to help close that gap and also address the misperception that public universities have all the funding they need.”

The gift in support of the CS Scholars Program also represented an opportunity for the Briggs parents to guide their son, recently hired by Etsy as a software engineer, into giving back now that he’s in the working world.

Additionally, it has touched those who run the program itself.

“The fact that Jonathan recommended the family give to this program is a testament to its importance, and to the service and commitment the CS Scholars team has to supporting and connecting our students,” said CS Scholars Associate Director Charlene Duncan.

Private support, she added, enables the program to provide “a home within computer science” for CS-intended students who are first-generation, underrepresented in the sciences, or from under-resourced communities with less access to CS courses in high school. The Briggs endowment also supports professional development opportunities for participants — from visits with industry professionals to field trips to the Computer Science History Museum led by department faculty.

As for Catherine and Gary Briggs, they are likely to remain connected to Berkeley even though they don’t have a student on campus anymore. “We hope that Jonathan does so as well,” Catherine said, “and that he’ll make Berkeley a philanthropic priority as he advances in his career.”


Three people wearing Cal caps and other Cal clothing

How much should I give?

For parents and other potential donors who question how big a gift to make, Catherine Briggs offers this bit of general advice.

“A friend once told me that it should be enough to make you rethink your priorities about something self-indulgent,” she said. “I always thought that’s a great way to illustrate how to gauge a gift — you don’t want to give so much that it keeps you awake at night, but you still want to give enough to make a difference.” To learn more about giving opportunities at Berkeley, visit

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