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Columbia Thank You Day celebrates $6.1 billion capital campaign funding

Updated, 4/3, 3:19 p.m.

Columbia Thank You Day will kick off on Thursday to celebrate the University’s record-breaking $6.1 billion capital campaign.

The campaign focused on giving in four areas, raising $2.1 billion for faculty and research, $1.2 billion for students, $1 billion for facilities, and $500 million for annual giving. 

Columbia Thank You Day is designed to celebrate the University’s donors with a social media campaign on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, where donors, faculty, and students can express what they are thankful for using the hashtag #ColumbiaThankYouDay.

“I want to extend a very personal thanks to all the volunteers and the donors of this extraordinary capital campaign,” University President Lee Bollinger said in a video posted to the campaign’s website. “It’s the most successful in Columbia’s history, and it will make a huge difference over time. Through this, we can help our faculty and our students do the great things that they are capable of doing. Thank you for helping Columbia and, through Columbia, helping the world.”

Columbia has seen its donor base increase by 52 percent during the nine-year campaign. Before the start of the campaign, the donor base included 229,727 donors, and by the time the campaign concluded on Dec. 31 of last year, that number had increased to 349,594.

The $2.1 billion raised for faculty and research went in part toward creating 265 new endowed faculty chairs. Trustee emeritus Gerry Lenfest, Law ’58, Hon. ’09, was a lead contributor, with $48 million in 2006 that went toward creating matching challenges for professorships in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Law School. Mortimer B. Zuckerman donated $200 million in 2012 to establish the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, known as the Zuckerman Institute.

Thomas Jessell, the Claire Tow professor of motor neuron disorders and one of the professors leading the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, said in an email that, with the recent donations, the institute will continue to be able to work on its goal of becoming “a hub that will promote innovative science, collaboration, and outreach programming.”

Jessell said Zuckerman's gift “has propelled our efforts to recruit new faculty in areas that will make the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute one of the world’s preeminent nodes for interdisciplinary discovery in the brain sciences."

Eric Kandel, a professor of brain science and another professor leading the Mind Brain Behavior Institute, said that he hopes the institute will develop with the financial help from the campaign.

“The Mind Brain Behavior Institute already has a very strong faculty, but we would also like to interface with a number of different aspects of the University that provide natural places for dialogues between brain science and other areas of knowledge, and we would like to recruit specialized faculty to facilitate that dialogue,” Kandel said. 

John Kluge, CC ’37, provided a historic donation of $400 million for student financial aid, $200 million of which was donated to Columbia College and the remaining $200 million to other Columbia schools. Half of Kluge’s donations were used in matching challenges, in which Kluge’s donation would account for one half of a scholarship and a donor would match Kluge’s contribution by funding the other half. The scholarship would then be named after the other donor.

Part of the $1.2 billion raised for students will go toward the Center for Student Advising and student projects, but the majority of the funds will be used for student financial aid. 

Anthony Pensiero, SEAS ’17, who is part of the Engineering-Entrepreneurship Residential Initiative, is working with his group to create a portable toxicity detector for food, a project that is funded by the donations of alumni entrepreneurs Alessandro Piol, SEAS ’79, SEAS ’82, and Alexandra Piol, SEAS ’79, SEAS ’83, through the capital campaign.

Pensiero said that their project was chosen “probably because it has a very practical application. ... It’s not just a tech application, it’s something that really requires you to talk to electrical engineers, to professors, and the whole development of this involves so much resources being pulled together.”

On the alumni who donated to their project, Pensiero said, “They want to see us succeed. That’s their goal.”

“They wanted to donate to something where it would help young minds interested in entrepreneurship, and this is how they did it,” Pensiero said. “They took a select few kids and they gave them a shot, and it’s greatly appreciated.”

Additionally, close to $1 billion was raised for capital improvements throughout the campaign’s nine-year span, such as the partial funding of the Northwest Corner Building and the Campbell Sports Center at Baker Athletics Complex.

Included in the $1 billion were the donations that financed the first buildings on Columbia’s new Manhattanville campus. The late Dawn Greene, who received an honorary doctorate from Columbia in 2008, and the Jerome L. Greene Foundation donated approximately $250 million for the Jerome L. Greene Science Center, which will house the Mind Brain Behavior Institute.

The Lenfest Center for the Arts, located next to the science center on the Manhattanville campus, was funded with a lead gift of $30 million from Lenfest.

Columbia Business School will also have a new home on the Manhattanville campus with two buildings financed in part by donations of $100 million each from Henry Kravis, Business ’69, and Ronald O. Perelman. 

Bollinger and board of trustees co-chairs William Campbell, CC ’62, TC ’64, and Jonathan Schiller, CC ’69, Law ’73, will host a lunch for the alumni board members of the various Columbia schools in Low Library on Friday to celebrate the success of the campaign and discuss the University’s future goals and priorities. 

These goals, according to the site, include enhancing entrepreneurship, focusing on personalized medicine, forging interdisciplinary connections at the Mind Brain Behavior Institute, expanding network-wide opportunities at Columbia’s global centers, and increasing technology use in Core Curriculum classes.

yasemin.akcaguner@columbiaspectator.com  |  @y_akcaguner

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Gerry Lenfest made a $200 million donation to the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute. An earlier version of the story said the campaign lasted for eight years. Spectator regrets the errors.

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Anonymous posted on

Congratulations, Columbia, on the second largest university campaign in world history!

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