Impact Like None Other
As Joan and Irwin Jacobs hit personal milestones at 90, the campus reflects on their indelible impact at UC San Diego
When Joan and Irwin Jacobs arrived from New York at the University of California San Diego in 1966, it was just a fledgling campus, Urey Hall was still under construction and appropriately, “California Dreamin” by the Mamas & the Papas was the year’s #1 top single.
Fast-forwarding to 2023, Joan and Irwin both reached the age of 90 this year, and their impact in the region and at UC San Diego is immeasurable.
As a founding faculty member of UC San Diego, Irwin served as a professor from 1966 to 1972. He went on to co-found Linkabit and later Qualcomm, where he served as founding chairman and CEO. Qualcomm pioneered the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) wireless technology and its success as the world's fastest-growing, most-advanced voice and data wireless communications technology.
Joan has, for many years, dedicated herself to enhancing the region with excellent health care, arts, culture and education, serving on many university, community and civic boards, including the UC San Diego Health Advisory Board of Jacobs Medical Center. Both Joan and Irwin have served as trustees of the UC San Diego Foundation Board, along with many other campus advisory boards.
Thanks to their support and visionary generosity – which began with their first gift 45 years ago in 1977 – UC San Diego has transformed immensely. It has grown to become one of the top research universities in the world, named the top “Golden Age” university, founded between 1945 and 1966 by Times Higher Education.
“UC San Diego continues to rise as a world-class public research university in large part due to the visionary support of Joan and Irwin Jacobs,” said Pradeep K. Khosla, UC San Diego chancellor and the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Chancellor’s Endowed Chair. “The Jacobs’ decades of steadfast involvement, dedication and friendship with UC San Diego has enabled many of our biggest priorities, including student access and support, driven groundbreaking discoveries and furthered our collective public health. We are deeply grateful for their generosity, which has forged a lasting and impactful legacy that will continue to shape the future of our region – and the world.”
Joan and Irwin have received multiple prestigious awards from UC San Diego for their dedication to the campus. They received the Chancellor’s Medal in 2010, which is one of the highest honors given by UC San Diego for exceptional service in support of the university's mission. They were the first to receive UC San Diego’s Lifetime Achievement Award, in 2020.
As the couple celebrates becoming “nonagenarians” together this year, the campus community reflects on Joan and Irwin’s expansive impact at UC San Diego, which has reached very nearly every corner of campus.
Establishing the Jacobs School of Engineering
In 1997, the Jacobs made a generous $15 million gift to name the Irwin and Joan Jacobs School of Engineering. The couple followed their initial investment in the school in 2003 with an endowment gift of $110 million to support scholarships, fellowships and faculty support at the Jacobs School. The gift represented the largest gift to UC San Diego at that point in time. Since then, the Jacobs School of Engineering has grown and expanded its reach, becoming one of the most prestigious engineering schools in the nation, which just recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of its naming.
Advancing Health Care for the Region and Beyond
With a passion for health care, Joan and Irwin Jacobs donated $100 million to establish the 245-bed Jacobs Medical Center at UC San Diego Health, which opened in 2016. The 10-story facility integrates world-class health care with healing arts and culinary offerings to provide an extraordinary healing experience for patients and families. Since opening, more than 60,000 patients have been cared for within the facility.
Advancing the facility even further, the Jacobs recently helped bring the Center for Health Innovation at UC San Diego Health into full reality with $22 million in support. The patient care “mission control center” within Jacobs Medical Center serves as a hyper-connected hub to monitor patient health and safety with the goal of developing AI algorithms and models that improve personalized treatment, health equity and patient experience. The couple has also established the Jacobs Retina Center at Shiley Eye Institute to drive research to find solutions for retina disorders that affect patients of all ages.
Fueling Research at the School of Global Policy and Strategy
The Jacobs have been longtime supporters of the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy. In 2021, they donated $14 million to the school’s Center on Global Transformation (CGT), driving research on how global economic and political structures are changing and how advances in science and technology improve policy and alter the distribution of wealth around the world. At the request of Joan and Irwin, the center was renamed as the Peter F. Cowhey Center on Global Transformation, in honor of Peter F. Cowhey’s retirement as dean of the School of Global Policy and Strategy for nearly two decades prior.
Making UC San Diego an Arts Destination
The Jacobs have played a significant role in establishing UC San Diego as an arts destination, with longstanding support for the Stuart Collection at UC San Diego, ArtPower!, the La Jolla Playhouse, which is housed on the campus and the establishment of the Joan K. Jacobs Healing Arts Collection, an art collection in and around Jacobs Medical Center. The collection was envisioned by Joan to introduce art and healing throughout the facility. The most recent addition was a monumental sculpture by famed artist Jeff Koons titled Party Hat (Orange), which Joan and Irwin donated to reflect the transformative power of healing and the celebration of new life at the Birth Center.
Supporting Undergraduate and Graduate Students
The Jacobs are also dedicated to supporting UC San Diego students – both undergraduates and graduate students. They support fellowships and scholarships in the UC San Diego School of Medicine to help train the health care leaders of tomorrow. They also established the Jacobs School Scholars and Fellows Program in the Jacobs School of Engineering. The Scholars program supports exceptional undergraduate students at the Jacobs School with funding to cover full tuition, room and board, and expenses over four years. The Fellows program provides first-year fellowships to outstanding incoming graduate students. More than 250 students have directly benefited from the program over the last two decades, and have also benefited from the advice and mentorship that the couple has provided as part of the program over the years.
Creating Endowed Faculty Chairs
Understanding the power of endowed chair positions to drive innovative research and attract and retain top minds at UC San Diego, the Jacobs have established a significant number of endowed chair positions on campus, including multiple at the Jacobs School of Engineering and the Rady School of Management, as well as two recently established chairs: the Stuart and Barbara L. Brody Endowed Chair in Circadian Biology and Medicine, which is designed to help bridge our understanding of circadian rhythms with medicine and healing, and the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Chancellor’s Endowed Chair in Digital Health Innovation, which will support the physician-scientist faculty member leading the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Center for Health Innovation.
At a recent celebration of his 90th birthday on campus, Irwin reflected on how integral UC San Diego has been to the Jacobs family’s lives. “We came to San Diego because of UC San Diego and what a wonderful institution it is. Thank you for everything. It is much appreciated.”
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