The University of Maryland, College Park announced Wednesday it has received a $219 million donation from the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation, the largest gift in the state flagship university's history.
The money will be used to provide more scholarships, build new spaces for student collaboration, add endowed faculty chair positions and develop other programs the college leadership characterized as "historic in scope and transformational in impact."
"It's an investment in the future of young people in Maryland," said university president Wallace Loh, noting he was speechless when he heard how much money the Clark Foundation would be giving.
A. James Clark relied on a state scholarship to attend the University of Maryland in the late 1940s. After making his fortune as the leader of a Bethesda-based construction company, Clark consistently gave back to his alma mater before his death in 2015.
He donated $15 million in 1994 to create an endowment fund to support the engineering college, which subsequently was named the A. James Clark School of Engineering. Over the next two decades, he provided tens of millions more for scholarships and capital projects. A recently constructed engineering hall also bears his name.
"What enabled him to get an education is that he got a scholarship. And he never forgot that," Loh said. "The story of his life comes full circle."
This donation stands apart as the largest gift the university has ever received. The next highest donation was $31 million from Brendan Iribe, CEO of Oculus VR, in 2014.
The Clark Foundation gift, exactly $219,486,000, ranks among the top 10 donations to a public research institution, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Gov. Larry Hogan, Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch and University System of Maryland Chancellor Robert Caret attended an event Wednesday morning at the university, where the donation was announced. Before a standing-room-only crowd, assorted politicians, university officials and students unfurled a large scroll, unveiling the dollar amount and prompting a standing ovation. Later, confetti machines erupted and the marching band burst in.
"I really believe this is the most important day in the history of this university," Hogan said.
While Iribe's gift was almost entirely devoted to the construction of a new computer science building, the Clark Foundation gift will be directed toward a variety of educational goals.
In line with Clark's vision, more than 40 percent will go to support student scholarships and doctoral fellowships.
The money will launch the A. James Clark Scholars Program, which will provide scholarships to high-achieving engineering undergraduates. The program is the signature academic initiative of the Clark Foundation, and the University of Maryland joins six other schools that already have implemented it, including the Johns Hopkins University. There are three other schools in the pipeline.
The gift also will endow a program that provides need-based scholarships to engineering majors who transfer from a Maryland community college.
"This investment is about access and affordability," said Darryll J. Pines, dean of the engineering school.
And a percentage of the money will be used to launch the Clark Challenge for Maryland Promise, a campus-wide scholarship matching program. The Clark Foundation hopes the initiative will catalyze support among other potential donors. If fully matched, the program would double the number of need-based scholarships available to Maryland students. These scholarships would be open to students in all majors.
"We know that cost remains a barrier for too many students especially first-generation college students," said Joe Del Guercio, the foundation's president and CEO. "The Clark Foundation is committed to ensuring that college is both accessible and affordable; as a result, need-based aid and financial support to students are a cornerstone of this investment."
The Clark Foundation's donation also will create eight faculty chairs to address critical research areas within the engineering field, such as robotics, sustainability and disaster resilience.
"It's a way to recruit some of the best and brightest faculty in areas of interest to the university and the college of engineering," Pines said.
Five endowed faculty chairs also will be established across the campus in fields that "will become drivers of economic development," Loh said. These areas may include neuroscience, cybersecurity or data analytics.
Additionally, an endowment will be created to support 30 additional first-year doctoral fellowships in the engineering school.
The money will allow the Clark school's Jeong H. Kim Engineering Building to be expanded to include an "IDEA Factory," which will house labs, start-up space and other areas to foster cross-disciplinary research.
"We want students from Maryland to be known for their creative ideas," Pines said, "and this will help foster that."
Courtney Clark Pastrick, board chair of the Clark Foundation and daughter of its namesakes, said she looks forward to seeing the impact of this gift for decades to come.
Many, she said, believe her father's legacy lies in his buildings. The Clark Construction Group has dramatically changed the landscape of Washington and many parts of this state. Oriole Park at Camden Yards is part of its portfolio.
"As his daughter," Clark Pastrick said, "I believe his true legacy will be his philanthropy."
More than 150 students who previously have received a Clark Foundation scholarship planned to attend Wednesday's event.
William Ramirez, who will graduate in December with a degree in mechanical engineering, said his scholarship allowed him to focus on his studies, instead of how he would pay for college.
"If I didn't get scholarships, I probably wouldn't have come to Maryland," he said in a video produced by the university. "The Clark scholarship allows me to focus more on my studies, as well as clubs like robotics."
Clark Pastrick recalled that when her father was still alive, he would visit the College Park campus to meet with scholarship beneficiaries. He wanted them to know he expected that they too give back one day.
"Education is really the immortality business," Loh said. "You make an impact on somebody … and that impact expands to eternity. That is why this is such an inspirational investment."
Top gifts to the University of Maryland, College Park
1. A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation: $219,486,000 (2017)
2. Brendan Iribe: $31,000,000 (2014)
3. Robert E. Fischell: $30,000,000 (2006)
3. A. James Clark: $30,000,000 (2005)
3. Robert H. Smith: $30,000,000 (2005)
6. Kevin Plank: $25,000,000 (2014)