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Cal Poly announces $110 million gift — the largest in CSU history

Bill and Linda Frost give $110 million to Cal Poly's College of Science and Math

Cal Poly announces a $110 million gift by alumnus Bill Frost and his wife, Linda, to the College of Science and Mathematics. During the announcement program, Bill Frost discusses the donation and chemistry student David Bilger explains the impact
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Cal Poly announces a $110 million gift by alumnus Bill Frost and his wife, Linda, to the College of Science and Mathematics. During the announcement program, Bill Frost discusses the donation and chemistry student David Bilger explains the impact

The motto “Learn By Doing” has long defined Cal Poly. The mechanics behind that mission were further enhanced Wednesday with the announcement of Bill and Linda Frost’s $110 million gift to the College of Science and Mathematics for undergraduate research — the largest financial donation ever given to the university and the California State University system.

A new vision for the department has been laid out thanks to the historic gift, with the goal of creating a program that makes students top prospects as they move on to graduate school and professional careers, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong and outgoing science and math Dean Phil Bailey said.

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A highlight of the donation will be a new 18,000-square-foot interdisciplinary research center, as well as $3.6 million annually for scholarships, research stipends, new equipment and additional faculty.

“I see this as an investment in the education and future successes of our science and mathematics students,” Bill Frost said. “I want this funding to be used to further enhance the ‘Learn by Doing’ experiences that define Cal Poly and to provide students with research opportunities that will result in their presenting at regional, national and even international professional conferences and co-authoring publications with their faculty mentors in peer-reviewed journals.”

The Frost’s gift means that the quality of undergraduate research “is absolutely assured from year to year,” Bailey said.

Armstrong said the gift would make Cal Poly more competitive in faculty recruitment because it would support teaching fellowships for post-doctoral students that would free up time for faculty members to do research.

Bill Frost graduated from the university with a degree in biochemistry before going on to found the chemical manufacturing company Chemlogics, which he later sold for $1.3 billion. Linda Frost is a graduate of San Jose State University, another school in the CSU system.

The amount includes the $20 million previously announced for the university’s planned Science and Agriculture Teaching and Research Complex and will be doled out in payments over time, Cal Poly Armstrong said.

“I can tell you that Bill and Phil have been working on this for years,” Armstrong told the hundreds in attendance at Wednesday’s announcement at the university’s Performing Arts Center.

Armstrong said he has known about the planned gift for a couple of years but said it took time to iron out details to the point where an announcement could be made.

Armstrong and CSU Chancellor Timothy White, who was also on hand for the announcement, said the Frost’s gift will have implications beyond Cal Poly.

“Bill and Linda’s inspirational gift sets an example for other current and potential donors,” White said. “It highlights the crucial role private support plays in helping to maintain and enhance California’s public higher education system.”

A number of students were on hand Wednesday to speak about the impact the Frosts’ financial support has had on their own academic careers.

Physics student Marissa Dierkes said the Frosts paid for her to have an opportunity to do full-time research “the summer of my freshman year,” while chemistry student David Bilger said he was considering changing majors when a Frost scholarship provided him with a research opportunity that changed his life.

“I would not be who I am today if it wasn’t for the opportunity given to me by William and Linda Frost,” Bilger said.

Sierra Durham, a chemistry student who will begin pursuing her doctorate in food chemistry at UC Davis next fall, said that the promise of guaranteed undergraduate research funding each and every year will build students’ confidence by providing a safety net.

“It’s nice because then you can fully embrace the failed experiments,” Durham said, rather than worrying about whether a failure would lead to lost funding.

Until Wednesday, the largest gift in CSU history, also made to Cal Poly, was a $60 million donation in the form of a bequest from an anonymous donor, which included real estate, stock and other assets to be released upon the donor’s death.

While the Frosts’ donation marks the single-largest gift in CSU history, Armstrong said he didn’t see it as a statement of Cal Poly’s stature in the greater CSU system.

“The CSU is made up of 23 wonderful universities, and they’re all different,” he said.

However, Bailey said Wednesday’s announcement of a “gift of immense proportions” was a signal that Cal Poly is well on its way to greater things.

“Bill and Linda are helping us develop one of the best undergrad research programs in the country,” he said.

Construction crews were continuing work on Student Housing South, Cal Poly's freshman dorms, at Grand Avenue and Slack Street in San Luis Obispo the week of April 24, 2017. Construction began in September 2015 and is estimated to finish in fall 20

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7929, @andrewsheeler

Top 10 gifts in California State University history

1. $110 million (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo)

2. $60 million (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo)

3. $42 million (Cal Poly Pomona)

4. $40 million (Fresno State)

5. $38 million (CSU Northridge)

6. $30 million (CSU Fullerton)

7. $29.4 million (Fresno State)

8. $24 million (Fresno State)

9. $23.3 million (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo)

10. $21.8 million (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo)

Top 10 gifts in University of California history

1. $500 million (UC San Francisco)

2. $200 million (UCLA)

3. $200 million (UCLA)

4. $200 million (UC Santa Barbara)

5. $185 million (UC San Francisco)

6. $125 million (UC San Francisco)

7. $113 million (UC Berkeley)

8. $110 million (UC San Diego)

9. $110 million (UC San Diego)

10. $100 million (Multiple Campuses)

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