Philanthropy Profiles: Grad Uses Would-be Rent Money to Fund Scholarship in Parents' Name

A call to action from Ernie Cockrell helped inspire Paolo Puccini's creative gift to his parents. With ExxonMobil's matching program, the gift was made possible.

Photo of Ernie Cockrell and Paolo Puccini

A call to action during a dinner with Ernie Cockrell helped inspire Paolo Puccini to make his first Cockrell School gift: a $25,000 scholarship in his parents' name that his employer helped match.

When it came time for recent Cockrell School of Engineering graduate Paolo Puccini to find a Christmas present for his parents this month, he wanted something that would recognize their dedication to him and his two younger siblings, as well as honor their love of education.

It was, after all, what brought the couple together when they met as graduate students.

But he also kept thinking back on something he heard Ernest H. Cockrell say during an annual dinner for Cockrell Scholars while Puccini was in school.

“I distinctly remember [him] telling students, ‘I’m not here to receive your thanks, but rather to remind you that one day it will be your turn to put something back into the till,’” said Puccini, a 2009 graduate of mechanical engineering and Plan II Honors.

While in college, Puccini had directly benefited from scholarships funded by alumni like Cockrell and corporate sponsors. This time he felt it was his turn to give back.

Since starting his current job with ExxonMobil, he’s been living with his parents in their Houston home to save money. With $6,250 in savings that Puccini estimates he otherwise would have spent on rent, he recently used ExxonMobil’s three-to-one matching program to create a $25,000 endowed scholarship in his parents’ name.

“I have an enormous debt to the Cockrell School and The University of Texas at Austin for the generous scholarship support they have provided me, and ExxonMobil’s three-to-one match for educational gifts makes it remarkably easy to begin repaying this debt to the University,” Puccini said. “The option to endow a scholarship in my parents’ name is the icing on the cake.”

As the New Year approaches, alumni like Puccini can leverage their company’s corporate matching program to fulfill their end-of-year philanthropy without breaking the bank.

These donations and matching gifts provide much-needed support for the Cockrell School’s major fundraising goals to:

  • Attract the world’s brightest graduate students by offering competitive graduate student fellowships
  • Improve buildings and infrastructure as outlined in the Master Facilities Plan
  • Fund innovative research and school programs
  • And attain and retract exceptional faculty through endowments

Support of these goals remains challenging as funding for higher education has been squeezed through budgetary cuts, but donations and corporate matching programs help the school continue to build upon the tradition of excellence that has defined engineering at The University of Texas at Austin for more than a century.

Last year alone, the Cockrell School received $9.2 million from 400 corporations; $5 million from private foundations; and $8.9 million from individual donors through outright giving and estate planning. Of the more than $1 million gifted to Friends of Alec from September 2009 to September 2010, $684,932 came from a corporate match.

Jeanine Salinas

Jeanine Salinas

“Times are tough right now and so people choose to be conservative with their money and income,” said Jeanine Salinas, a 2007 chemical engineering alumna who works as an environmental coordinator for Hilcorp Energy Company in Houston. “I loved my engineering professors and I know the importance of funding their research, so I want the Cockrell School to keep being one of the top engineering programs in the country and world. I know a part of that is keeping their funds growing.”

This year Salinas took advantage of Hilcorp Energy Company’s unique matching program which includes setting up a $2,500 donor advised fund for each new employee through the Greater Houston Community Foundation.

Jeanine used her newly established employee fund to make her first annual gift to Friends of Alec in support of the Department of Chemical Engineering. From here out, every dollar she invests into her Donor Advised Fund will be matched one-to-one by Hilcorp Energy Company up to $2,000.

“Knowing that my company will help contribute to my fund and learning about how my donation benefits the school or organization I choose to give to, that encourages me to give back,” Salinas said.

For Steve DeLeon, a 1975 aerospace engineering alumnus and father of four grown daughters, giving back to the Cockrell School was as much about supporting his alma mater as it was to help recruit women into the aerospace department.

Deleon made a gift of $5,000, which was matched one-to-one by his employer, Lockheed Martin, where he is a lead engineer. The gift went toward the aerospace department’s female recruitment efforts.

This is not the first gift for DeLeon; in 2009 he established the Estevan G. De Leon Endowed Excellence Fund for Equal Opportunity in Engineering to support the Cockrell School’s EOE program.

Steve DeLeon

Steve DeLeon

"Everything I've done in my life couldn't have been possible without the education and the discipline I received at UT," said DeLeon, who has received Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Ford Foundation and the United Hispanic Council. "That discipline served me well, and I owe them my life. I've spent all my life recruiting minorities and women into engineering, so this is natural for me. We need all the engineers we can get."

This same sense of giving back is true for Dr. Joan M. Schork, who received her M.S. and Ph.D. in chemical engineering in 1984 and 1986. Her thesis adviser, Dr. Jim Fair, passed away two days before his 90th birthday this October and Schork and many of Dr. Fair’s other former students have banded together to create the James R. and Merle Fair Endowed Graduate Fellowship in Chemical Engineering.

Schork, who is a chief engineer for Air Products and Chemicals in Allentown, Pa., used the company’s one-to-one match to make her five year pledge in support of the Fair Graduate Fellowship.

"Dr. Fair believed in me and encouraged me during my time at UT and beyond. He has been a friend and mentor for so many years," Schork said. "It is hard to believe he is gone, but I am hopeful that the Endowed Fellowship in his name will help his legacy live on in perpetuity."

photo of Dr. Joan Schork smiling

Dr. Joan M. Schork

For information on end-of-year giving opportunities and how you can invest in students, faculty, or research initiatives at the Cockrell School, visit the online Giving page.