Discover. Innovate.

A $30 million gift from the Leavey Foundation to help build a new home for science and engineering

Discover. Innovate.
The Sobrato Campus for Discovery and Innovation will be a 300,000-square-foot state-of-the-art home for cross-disciplinary work in engineering, the hard sciences, and mathematics. Illustration by Tavis Coburn

The Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Foundation has supported Santa Clara students for decades. Now they’re going to help build a place to develop skills and ways of thinking and solving problems that shape the next generation of leaders for Silicon Valley and beyond. Cool news for The Sobrato Campus for Discovery and Innovation.

This outstanding news came out June 2: The Leavey Foundation has committed $30 million to help build the Sobrato Campus for Discovery and Innovation. This is a project unique in undergraduate education: creating a space to bring together electrical engineers and biophysicists and mathematicians to solve complex problems.

In January, Santa Clara received a landmark gift from John Sobrato ’60 and Sue Sobrato: $100 million, the largest gift in SCU history. That’s to build the biggest building in SCU history, to make the University a part of Silicon Valley like never before—and to say to alumni and friends: Come join us.

In fact, more students will be joining us here. “The Sobrato Campus for Discovery and Innovation will allow us to increase enrollment by several hundred students,” says Jim Lyons, SCU’s vice president for University Relations. “High tech leaders want more engineers, more mathematicians, more computer scientists. But normally these people all study in different buildings. They might not even talk to each other. In this building, they could be right next to each other, sharing lab and classroom space. From a curricular standpoint, they’re going to work together across disciplines and across schools. That’s what we need to solve problems in our world.”


Generations of students have benefited from the support of the Leavey Foundation, established by Thomas E. Leavey ’22 and Dorothy Leavey.

Scholarships have made SCU affordable to a diverse range of students. A gift from the foundation made possible the construction of the Leavey Center, home to SCU Athletics. The foundation invested in programs to enable the Leavey School of Business to become nationally recognized.

So who was Thomas Leavey?

Thomas Leavey was presented with an honory degree by SCU President Patrick Donohoe, S.J., in 1964. / Photo courtesy SCU Archives

Third son of Irish immigrants, raised on a dairy farm in California’s Humboldt County. His father wanted Thomas to go to college so he wouldn’t spend life working “in the ditch.” Thomas arrived at Santa Clara in January 1918. He studied, he played baseball—earning props as “the premier pitcher.” He served as an active-duty officer during World War I, returned to study, then headed east to work for the government and complete a law degree at Georgetown. The mid-1920s found him in Los Angeles, working in banking. LA was booming; it had recently become the largest city in California. The age of the automobile was going into high gear, too. Leavey made an observation: Rural drivers have fewer accidents than city drivers. So they should have lower car insurance rates. On that premise, he founded Farmers Insurance.

Business grew. And the stars aligned for Thomas in other ways: He met Dorothy Risley, who was born in Omaha and had attended the University of Montana, before coming to Los Angeles to work as a legal secretary. They wed in 1930. A daughter, Kathleen, was born; and another, Dorothy Therese.

In the postwar boom, business thrived. Thomas created a profit-sharing program to give employees a stake in the company’s successes. And in 1952, the Leaveys created the Leavey Foundation to support causes they believed in. Thomas’s classmate Edwin A. Heafey ’20, the namesake of the Heafey Law Library, took care of the paperwork.

Thomas Leavey became a founding member of SCU’s Board of Regents in 1959. In recognition for his “service to both Catholic and secular education in America,” SCU awarded him an honorary degree in 1964. He joined the Board of Trustees in 1967 to help steer the University through a time of major transformation in higher education. He and Dorothy gave—usually quietly—many millions to support educational, medical, and Catholic causes. Thomas died in 1980, and Dorothy continued to lead the foundation. Their younger daughter Dorothy Therese had tragically died the year before in an automobile accident. Dorothy Leavey threw herself into work on behalf of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. In recognition of her “dynamic spirit, broad vision, and extraordinary sensitivity to the hopes and aspirations of ordinary people”—and remarkable generosity in helping others—SCU awarded her an honorary degree in 1989. She passed on in 1998, at 101 years.

Philanthropist Dorothy Leavey. / Photo courtesy SCU Archives


Today the Leavey Foundation, based in Los Angeles, is chaired by daughter Kathleen McCarthy Kostlan. She values the education Santa Clara provides, producing “graduates not only with excellent critical thinking skills, but also the moral compass to put them to use for the greater good of the world around them.”

Granddaughter Kathleen McCarthy Duncan carries on involvement with SCU, serving on the Board of Regents. And grandson Michael McCarthy ’80 served on the Board of Regents and Board of Trustees. John Sobrato’s classmate Lou Castruccio ’60 serves on the board of the Leavey Foundation. At the foundation, they’re excited about what the Sobrato Campus makes possible: a focus on STEM and solving complex problems that are in the DNA of Silicon Valley.

We’re pretty jazzed about it, too: an education that has ethics at its core, built on the idea of educating the whole person, and bringing together technical expertise from across different fields and schools. Come join us.

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