$100 Million Gift Establishes the Sobrato Campus for Discovery and Innovation

$100 Million Gift Establishes the Sobrato Campus for Discovery and Innovation

By Steven Boyd Saum

The largest gift in the history of Santa Clara University and one of the biggest in the history of Catholic higher education. Thanks to John A. ’60 and Susan Sobrato, we’ll begin to build a 300,000-square-foot state-of-the-art home for cross-disciplinary work in engineering, the hard sciences, and mathematics. It will be a place to develop skills and ways of thinking and solving problems that shape the next generation of leaders for Silicon Valley and beyond.

Come the year 2020, you’ll see a Mission Campus transformed: by a “campus within a campus,” designed to foster collaborative exploration to enhance undergraduate student learning and discovery across science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). That’s a mouthful, yes. So let’s put it so: There’s no other university in the country doing this for undergraduate students in quite this way—built around ethics and Jesuit values. Though if we inspire others, that would be a fine thing indeed.

“The world today faces some really immense problems,” John A. Sobrato assesses. “We’re talking about climate change, global health, poverty, energy sustainability.” Technical knowledge alone—particularly in one field— isn’t enough to solve these. Hence a need for “really bright minds working across all disciplines to forge solutions together,” in the words of Provost Dennis Jacobs. Enter a space built with that in mind: in teaching and research, and in areas like neuroscience, bioengineering, and environmental science.

The building will be big—“by far the largest on campus,” Sobrato says. “Three distinct wings, all interconnected.” Take that sense of interconnection as a metaphor. And read more about the vision for the building on the next page. But since buildings and ideas start with people, here’s a little about two people making this possible.


A walk through campus and a tour through Silicon Valley will show that, for decades, the Sobratos have been building and shaping both this University and the wider environs that have housed engines of economic growth and world-changing innovation. “What [John] has done in Silicon Valley has really been incredible,” says his classmate and former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ’60, J.D. ’63, “not only for the high-tech industry but also the construction that he’s done at Santa Clara University.”

John A. Sobrato has focused on commercial development for tech firms since 1974, developing and constructing more than 150 office and research and development facilities. He is the founder and principal of The Sobrato Organization, based in Cupertino, and he built the iconic Apple headquarters in Cupertino as well as campuses for Siebel, NVIDIA, Netflix, EMC, Verisign, and Yahoo!

John A. and Sue Sobrato wed 56 years ago, and Sue has been an active partner supporting the family’s business and philanthropic pursuits. Raising a family came first for Sue. Giving back to the community where they live mattered deeply, too. This gift comes from the both of them. Their family includes three children—John Michael Sobrato ’83, Lisa Sobrato Sonsini, and Sheri Sobrato Brisson M.A. ’94—and seven grandkids, including several more Santa Clara grads. Since 1997, John M. Sobrato has served as CEO of The Sobrato Organization. The year before that, the family created the Sobrato Family Foundation. In the past 20 years, that foundation has given cash and real estate to support education, health care, human services, and other endeavors—to the tune of $375 million.


Here on campus, along with the counsel and care that the Sobratos have given generously over the years (John A. is a longtime member of the Board of Trustees), gifts from the family made possible the Sobrato Residential Learning Community, Abby Sobrato Mall, and much, much more. They donated $20 million to build the Harrington Learning Commons, Sobrato Technology Center, and Orradre Library, completed in 2008. The new Sobrato Campus for Discovery and Innovation will rise right next door to the library. The $100 million gift that makes it possible is also the largest gift in the family’s history.

But it’s more than a gift. “This beautiful new building that John and Sue are contributing so generously to will be a landmark in the center of campus,” observes President Michael Engh, S.J. “And they’re setting a challenge for others to say, ‘Come join us in this to make Santa Clara an even greater Jesuit Catholic institution.’”

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