Filippi Gift of $30 Million Invests in Academic Excellence

Sixteen merit-based student scholarships, four faculty chairs, and a new academic building are among the benefits of a $30 million gift to Saint Mary's College, the largest in the school's history. And, says Saint Mary's Provost Sally Stampp, the gift from the Frank J. and Olivia C. Filippi Trust represents an enormous boost to faculty dreams.

"This means the ideas and dreams the faculty have in the areas of curriculum and research are more able to be realized," Stampp says. "It's a gift as closely directed to faculty work as I've ever seen."

The bulk of the gift -- a $21 million endowment -- is allocated to academic initiatives. With income from this endowment, the College's investment in academic development increases sevenfold. This will help faculty create new courses, assess the effectiveness of existing programs, consider team-teaching opportunities, develop projects to synthesize students' learning, continue scholarship in progress, and attend professional conferences. In addition, it will support projects closely related to the College's Catholic and Lasallian mission, diversity initiatives, resources to enhance students' information literacy, and guest lectures.

Already, the Filippi gift is adding funds for faculty and student research. It's also helping faculty develop courses that create learning communities crossing academic department lines -- a College priority -- beginning with courses linking environmental science, urban studies, and communication. This fall, chemistry professor Steven Bachofer and sociology professor Phyllis Martinelli will co- teach the paired Urban Environmental Issues and Urban Studies courses, enabling Saint Mary's students to examine the environmental risks and societal benefits involved in providing transitional housing at a former naval base in Alameda, California. In a third course, students will produce a video record of this educational and community outreach effort.

"Whenever you're able to support the innovative ideas of a gifted and creative faculty, you create a more alive environment," says Stampp. "Faculty energy will be higher. That's infectious. Students will be engaged by it."

Another $3 million benefits undergraduates directly by providing an endowment for scholarships recognizing academic achievement. This year, eight of the sixteen students awarded these scholarships are incoming freshmen.

An additional $2 million establishes four endowed faculty chairs. The Filippi chair in poetry goes to Brenda Hillman, a member of the faculty since 1985 and a past Pulitzer Prize finalist. In history, Carl Guarneri, whose current work focuses on placing American history in a global context, assumes the chair for two years. In the performing arts, the Filippi chair is a one-year term, this year shared by professors Martin Rokeach and Lino Rivera. Saint Mary's will be hiring a Filippi chair in mathematics to direct its computer science program.

"For my department, this chair helps keep the momentum for curricular or scholarly work going," says Guarneri. "It also will fund activities to help teaching or scholarship that aren't covered by the faculty development fund but are still extremely useful."

The final $4 million will help build a new academic hall for the School of Education, providing improved office and classroom space. Construction of the building, which will bear the names of Frank J. and Olivia C. Filippi, is slated to begin in spring 2004.

"No student entering as a freshman this year will graduate without benefiting from this gift either directly or indirectly," says Stampp.

Frank Filippi, a San Francisco attorney who died in 2001, served as a member of the College's Board of Regents for fifteen years; was named an honorary alumnus in 1992; and became an affiliated member of the De La Salle Christian Brothers, who operate Saint Mary's College, in 1994. Previously, the Filippis had established a student scholarship fund at Saint Mary's and provided support for an administration building named in their honor.

"He [Frank Filippi] was a wonderful man, and this is a wonderful gift," Stampp says. "He was very much taken by the liberal arts and enhancing the direct academic endeavors of the College."

-- by Amy DerBedrosian
College Communications