If my father had taken another route to San Jose, I might never have fallen for Santa Clara. But that day in the fall of 1970, as we drove down El Camino Real, I glimpsed the sight that determined my college destiny: the Santa Clara football team practicing on Bellomy Field.
I was a college-football-mad 13-year-old. And the unexpected image of college football players running drills in full pads—the cannon-armed future NFL star Dan Pastorini ’71 among them—made a deep impression. I asked my dad where we were. And for the first time in my short, Presbyterian life, I heard about the University of Santa Clara, the Jesuits, and the sketches of what a Catholic institution of higher education might be like.
Somehow it stuck. While my friends cast their nets wide, I applied only to Santa Clara, though truthfully my understanding of what made this place special was barely deeper than it had been that day with my dad four years earlier.
“It’s Santa Clara’s effect on my sense of community that I value more than anything.”
But as a student, it didn’t take me long to appreciate the Jesuit focus on educating the whole person. I’d arrived on campus intent on majoring in business, but my love of my lower-division requirements in history and religious courses, like the History of Christianity and Theology of Marriage, opened my mind to the liberal arts. At Santa Clara, amid a culture of pursuing a well-rounded education, I felt the support to make a change. Soon I was a history major.
And of course Santa Clara offered so much more. I participated in student government, played rugby, studied abroad, volunteered on the presidential campaign for Jerry Brown ’59, worked as a T.A., and made friends and mentors who lasted long into adulthood, like Richard Coz, S.J., who baptized my first son. Santa Clara encouraged me to take a 360-degree view of life, and I embraced it. Football it turned out, didn’t play such a major role after all.
SIGNS OF SUCCESS, SIGNS OF WARNING
To be sure, the intellectual rigors of my education at Santa Clara helped me throughout my career in the Silicon Valley. After earning an MBA and CPA, I was hired by video game maker Electronic Arts in the late ’80s to work on taking the company public. Nearly 25 years later, the company has revenues exceeding $4 billion, and I’m chief operating officer of its EA Labels division, overseeing more than a dozen game development studios, with nearly 7,000 employees around the world.
But perhaps it’s Santa Clara’s effect on my sense of community that I value more than anything else. I credit my Jesuit education for the clarity that, amid an ever-increasing pace of change, there remains a duty—and a way—to give back to the communities we work in and live in. For me, this included starting a nonprofit to help diabetics in underserved communities.
Shortly after I turned 40, I noticed a public service announcement relaying the seven warning signs of diabetes, including extreme thirst, fatigue, and hunger. I realized to my shock that I had all seven warning signs!
My subsequent diagnosis put me on a path to greater exercise and then to climbing mountains, a consuming hobby that has taken me from Africa to Russia and South America. In 2007, I looked for a way to put that passion to greater use, founding climb4acure, a nonprofit that leads fundraising ascents up some of the country’s highest peaks. So far we’ve handed out more than $125,000 in grants to 23 clinics aiding underserved communities around the country. My Santa Clara college roommates and best friends are on the board, and they have been integral in making climb4acure a reality.
WINGS AND HOW TO BUILD THEM
Nonprofit fundraising is immensely powerful. For climb4acure, it has allowed us to give badly needed help to places like Culberson Hospital in rural West Texas, which serves a largely Hispanic population with a high diabetes rate.
At the Alumni Association, such efforts are just as important. I’m immensely proud of the Alumni Board Service Award that the Association granted last year to Cynthia Martinez ’12, a first-generation college student whose diverse experience at Santa Clara exemplifies the whole-person education.
After four years at SCU that included Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice, study abroad, Hermanas Unidas, Misas en Español, LEAD Scholars, and even shaving her head to raise money for cancer research, Martinez headed to Jesuit Volunteer Corps International after graduation to work in Nicaragua with children facing exploitation. Her inspiration, she says, came in part from the wonder of working with Michelle, a Peruvian girl with Down syndrome whom she met on a service trip to Lima her senior year.
“Because of my meaningful experiences at Santa Clara University and my inspiration from Michelle, I have gained wings,” Cynthia says. “Now, I feel the need to give wings to other children.”
The good we are able to unleash by investing in someone like Cynthia is immeasurable. My thanks to each of you who have given back to Santa Clara, both with your time—by volunteering or attending an event—and financially. For those still waiting, now is the perfect time to help out. Thanks to the generosity of the Leavey Foundation, the legacy of Thomas Leavey ’22, his wife, Dorothy, and generations of their family, Santa Clara will receive $1 million if 9,000 undergraduate alumni—fewer than one in four of us—make a gift to SCU by June 30.
There are many paths to Santa Clara. Mine began with a trip down the El Camino when I was barely a teenager. But the value of our University is the path that guides all of us along after we leave the Mission Campus.
Bryan Neider ’74