Microsoft CEO, wife give $2 million to UWM to bolster tech education

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The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee announced a second major donation to the college in two weeks, this time a $2 million gift from the chief executive officer of Microsoft.

Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, a UWM alumnus, and Anu Nadella, his wife and a community leader in Seattle, made the donation to help UWM recruit and retain more undergraduate and graduate students from marginalized and underserved communities into careers in computer science, data science and information technology. 

The university will put the money into a new Fund for Diversity in Tech Education, which will support pre-college programming aimed at getting K-12 students thinking about the field earlier, and mentoring and tutoring for UWM students. The bulk of the money will go toward student scholarships to attend college. A portion will also go toward emergency grants for students who find themselves at risk of dropping out because of an inability to pay their bills.

“We know that while talent is everywhere, opportunity is not. And when people have access to education and skilling, they create new opportunity for themselves and their communities,” Satya and Anu Nadella said in a statement. “It is our hope that others will join us in working to create new opportunity for students from Milwaukee’s underserved communities to learn, gain new skills and grow their economic opportunity, which in turn will benefit the broader community and help this region thrive in the digital economy.”

The gift is the latest in a string of major donations to UWM, which prides itself on straddling the dual mission of being both a top research university and an urban access institution.

In late 2019, the college announced its largest fundraising campaign in history, with more that $250 million in gifts. Last week, as a result of litigation surrounding the Froedtert Hospital Trust, the college got a $5.75 million donation aimed specifically for students pursuing health care careers.

While the Nadellas’ gift is a personal one, Microsoft has also invested in UWM’s tech education and research.

Two years ago, the tech giant put $1.5 million in cash and technology into the university, $1 million of which went to the new Connected Systems Institute, which works to bring smart technology into manufacturing. Milwaukee-based Rockwell automation also put $1.7 million into the center.

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Chancellor Mark Mone said he was especially happy about the Nadellas’ gift because it focuses on local residents and on students who have great financial need. In talking with the Nadellas, Mone said he saw a strong belief in the power of getting people into high-paying tech jobs for better quality of life.

When Satya Nadella came to the U.S. from India, Milwaukee was his first stop, Mone said. He earned a master’s degree in computer science from UWM in 1990.

“He knows, personally, the needs in our community and he knows how they’ve been exacerbated by the pandemic, but also just what the plight is in terms of challenges when you’re serving as an access institution,” Mone said.

The chancellor noted the timing of this and other gifts as especially important given the exacerbated challenges that students will face coming out of the pandemic in terms of learning loss and mental health.

“There are reports that say 50% of the math skills are gone, poof, in the last year from high school seniors,” Mone said. “A third of the skillsets around reading, English, social science … so here’s an incoming freshman class that’s academically more challenged that what we’ve seen in our careers. This isn’t like, ‘Oh yeah, this compares to 1997 or 2012.’ No. This is fundamentally different.”

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That’s why the Nadellas’ gift focuses on adding more supports for high schoolers who are transitioning into college and supporting students academically and otherwise while on campus. Mone said he hopes that future gifts similarly focus on supporting students even before they enter college.

The chancellor also said the Nadellas’ donation is inspiring to other major donors. 

“The credibility of the Microsoft CEO who happens to be one of our alumni and his wife, who are major benefactors as they’re coming into their own, the power of that (gift) — it’s just so exponential,” Mone said.

He said the recent run of gifts to UWM have been years in the making, but also that a renewed recognition and reflection on UWM’s role in educating Milwaukee has made the institution attractive to invest in.  

RELATED: Here’s what $251 million in fundraising means: ‘The gifts really touch every corner of UWM’

Satya Nadella became the third CEO of Microsoft in 2014 and in 2019 he was named Financial Times’ Person of the Year and Fortune magazine’s Businessperson of the Year.

Anu Nadella is a community leader in Seattle, serving as chair of the Seattle Children’s Foundation Board of Trustees and as a research ambassador for the Arrowsmith Program. She earned a bachelors’ in architecture from Mangalore University in India.

“UWM has been deeply impactful in my life, and I will be forever grateful to the professors and computer science department that instilled in me both technical education and the confidence to apply that knowledge to tackling the biggest and hardest problems in computer science,” Satya Nadella said in a statement. “I still carry the lessons learned at UWM with me, and Anu and I are honored to contribute to expanding that same opportunity I had to a broader group of students.”

Contact Devi Shastri at 414-224-2193 or DAShastri@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DeviShastri.

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