Real estate developer John A. Sobrato and his wife Susan have made a gift of $100 million to Santa Clara University to help create the Sobrato Campus for Discovery and Innovation. This “campus within a campus” will be designed to promote cross-disciplinary exploration to enhance undergraduate student learning and discovery across science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
John Sobrato is a 1960 graduate of Santa Clara University.
The $100 million gift is the largest in Santa Clara’s 166-year history and ranks as the second-largest gift ever to a Catholic university. It will accelerate Santa Clara University’s vision and goals for STEM education, which emphasize developing technical expertise, an entrepreneurial mindset, ethical reasoning, and collaborative approaches to tackling society’s most urgent challenges.
“Sue and I and our son John Michael have agreed to leave 100 percent of our wealth to the Sobrato Family Foundation to invest in organizations that improve the lives of the less fortunate in the greater Silicon Valley community and to institutions like Santa Clara University, which have helped make the Sobrato Organization the success that it is,” said John A.Sobrato.
John Sobrato has a reported net worth of nearly $6 billion.
“This gift is the largest in our family’s history. We are especially pleased to support the University’s new strategic vision and the transformational STEM initiative at its core. The state-of-the-art, 300,000-square-foot, undergraduate-focused complex will allow for the integration of the various engineering departments with the natural science disciplines of the College of Arts and Sciences to address—with Jesuit values—some of the world’s most pressing problems.”
The Sobrato Campus for Discovery and Innovation will create opportunities for students to engage in innovative, high-impact, team-based projects. When complete, the Sobrato Campus will promote cross-disciplinary undergraduate teaching, research, and initiatives in areas such as neuroscience, bioengineering, sustainability, and environmental science.
The new facility is being designed by Portland-based Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects—Architect Magazine’s Firm of the Year and top firm for sustainability in 2016—in partnership with lab-design experts Research Facilities Design, of San Diego. The Sobrato Campus will offer flexible laboratory, classroom, and student project spaces, visually connected by transparent glass walls. Integrated with Santa Clara’s Frugal Innovation Hub and Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, the Sobrato Campus will enable more interaction between SCU’s science and engineering resources and its signature, Jesuit-mission-based programs focused on meeting the needs of the global poor.
“We are honored and blessed by John and Susan Sobrato’s unwavering support for Santa Clara University for the past six decades,” said Michael Engh, S.J., president of Santa Clara University. “This historic gift will accelerate our vision of leveraging our academic excellence, Jesuit values, and Silicon Valley relationships to forge imaginative solutions to the urgent challenges we face.”
John A. Sobrato ’60, is a longtime member of Santa Clara University’s Board of Trustees and founder of The Sobrato Organization (TSO) of Cupertino, California, one of the largest commercial development firms in Silicon Valley. In 1996, the couple and their three children launched the Sobrato Family Foundation.
The Sobratos have been married for 56 years, during which time Mrs. Sobrato has been an active partner supporting the family’s business and philanthropic pursuits. Mrs. Sobrato prioritized raising her three children and giving back to the family’s community through financial resources and personal time commitments. In addition to their three children—John Michael ’83, Lisa Sobrato Sonsini, and Sheri Sobrato Brisson M.A. ’94—the pair has five grandsons and two granddaughters.
The Sobratos have been prominent philanthropists in Silicon Valley for decades, and particularly generous to SCU. They donated $20 million to build the University’s Harrington Learning Commons, Sobrato Technology Center, and Orradre Library, completed in 2008. Gifts from the Sobrato family have also supported other major capital projects on campus, including the Sobrato Residential Learning Community, Abby Sobrato Mall, and other campus buildings. Elsewhere in Silicon Valley, capital gifts from the Sobrato family have included $20 million to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, $10 million to Bellarmine College Preparatory high school, and $5 million each to Valley Medical Center and National Hispanic University. A $1.25 million gift in 2012 helped build the Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit High School.
John A. Sobrato is proud to trace his professional success back to his days studying business at Santa Clara University. While a student, Sobrato arranged his class schedule so he could start selling Eichler houses in Palo Alto three days a week. By the age of 22, he founded Midtown Realty and was the youngest member of the Million Dollar Club of the Palo Alto Real Estate Board. In 1972, he sold Midtown Realty to focus exclusively on high-tech commercial properties, and went on to develop the iconic Apple headquarters in Cupertino and campuses for Siebel, Nvidia, Netflix, EMC, VeriSign, and Yahoo! Over the years, TSO developed more than 15 million square feet of office and R&D properties, and currently owns 92 commercial buildings in the Valley totaling nearly 8 million square feet, and 29 apartment communities along the West Coast.
Sobrato serves as board chair of both the family firm and the Sobrato Family Foundation (SFF), whose robust community impact platform focuses on 21st century education and career pathways, provides millions each year in community-mainstay general operating support, and runs three Sobrato Centers for Nonprofits, which provide 333,000 square feet of rent-free office space to 72 organizations and high-quality conference space to all Bay Area nonprofits. SFF’s signature program is the Sobrato Early Academic Language Program [SEAL]—an innovative, comprehensive model of intensive, enriched language and literacy education from preschool through grade 3, currently in 87 schools in 16 California districts, and impacting tens of thousands of English learners. Since 1996, the Sobrato Family has donated nearly $375 million in cash and real estate to educational, health, human services, and other charities.
Mr. Sobrato was recognized for his philanthropy in 2012 with the Joint Venture Silicon Valley, David Packard Award for Civic Entrepreneurship, and the couple in 2015 received the Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s Spirit of Silicon Valley – Lifetime Achievement Award.
In addition to Santa Clara University, Mr. Sobrato serves on the boards of
- NHU Foundation and Latino College Preparatory Academy (Vice Chair)
- Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit High School (Co-chair)
- Bay Area Council (Santa Clara County Director)
- Bellarmine College Preparatory (Regent Emeritus)
- Parents Helping Parents (Member)
- Ravenswood Family Health Center (Member)
- Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Foundation (Director Emeritus)
- Silicon Valley Community Foundation (Real Estate Trust Co-Chair)
- Joint Venture Silicon Valley (Member)