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Strengthening Our Democracy: Joan and Irwin Jacobs
In 2021, the Academy received a $5 million pledge from trailblazing engineer, business leader, and philanthropist Irwin Jacobs and his wife Joan. This transformative gift supports the Academy’s work to strengthen American democracy by advancing the recommendations proposed by the Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship in the report, Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century. The gift also endows the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Program Officer for American Institutions, Society, and the Public Good, a position that supports current and future projects in the area of democracy and justice, including advancing the recommendations in Our Common Purpose.
Called the “Philanthropist in Chief” by The San Diego Union-Tribune, Irwin and Joan have given generously to several schools and organizations, including fellowships and scholarships in the areas of engineering and computer science as well as the arts. While their giving has focused mainly on the San Diego area, they have also made many gifts elsewhere, including at the Academy, MIT, and their endowment of the Jacobs Technion-
Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech in New York City. In January 2022, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation renamed its list of United States Supreme Court cases the “Joan and Irwin Jacobs Supreme Court Docket” in honor of their $20 million gift, the largest endowment gift in the organization’s history.
An Academy member since 2001, Irwin Jacobs is the Founder and former Chairman of the telecommunications company Qualcomm and Chair Emeritus of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. As Chief Executive Officer until 2005, he led Qualcomm’s innovation of Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), the digital wireless technology for all third generation cellular networks. In 1994, he received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Joan Jacobs has played an important role as a community activist and in such groups as the University of California, San Diego, the Jewish Community Foundation, and City National Bank. She has been extremely active in the San Diego arts community, including at the La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego Symphony, and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.
In May 2018, Irwin and Joan made a special visit to the House of the Academy in Cambridge with a group of elementary school students from New Bedford. During the visit, as a way of illustrating what the Academy does, the students participated in a mock project meeting on civics and education. The students also received a tour of the Academy and a presentation on materials in the Archives that relate to American and Massachusetts history. The visit was part of an annual field trip that Irwin and Joan take with students from New Bedford,
The Jacobs’ passion for strengthening our democracy runs deep in their family. Their son Paul, a civic leader and technology visionary in mobile communications, was elected to the Academy in 2017. Their granddaughter Sara Jacobs was elected a U.S. congressional representative from San Diego in 2020. Thanks to the immense generosity of Irwin and Joan Jacobs, the Academy can continue its work to forge a more resilient democracy.
Exploring New Ideas: The William and Helen Pounds Fund
The Academy recently received a generous gift of $1 million from William and Helen Pounds to support the exploration of new projects and initiatives. The William and Helen Pounds Fund extends the Academy’s legacy of addressing the most urgent and complicated issues of our time. The fund will help the Academy thoroughly develop new ideas so that projects can be launched with purpose and clarity, and with the benefit of a diversity of perspectives.
Professor of Management, Professor of Organization Studies, and Dean Emeritus at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Bill is no stranger to taking on new ideas and initiatives. He was born on a farm in Pennsylvania and grew up in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania. He earned three degrees at Carnegie Mellon University: BS in Chemical Engineering, MS and PhD in Mathematical Economics. He was a carrier-based fighter pilot in the Navy during the Korean War. In 1961, Bill joined the faculty of the Sloan School and served as Dean from 1966 to 1980. When the Vietnam War and MIT’s military research contracts and laboratories provoked campus protests, he was appointed to head a new student-faculty inquiry panel. During the 1960s, he directed management programs in India, Colombia, Spain, and China. In 1971, Bill was elected to the Academy. Helen Pounds is an Honorary Director of the Massachusetts Audubon Society and Overseer Emerita of the Museum of Science.
Bill and Helen had originally earmarked this gift as a bequest to the Academy, but they decided to accelerate their donation so that it could contribute to existing projects and initiatives. They were moved to support the Commission on Accelerating Climate Action, which seeks to understand the barriers that prevent effective action and propose new strategies for how to overcome them, with an additional contribution of $250,000.
In the years to come, the William and Helen Pounds Fund will strive to live up to its namesakes by supporting new, important projects in line with the independent and forward-thinking mission of the Academy. We are grateful for the generous support of William and Helen Pounds, which will make this work possible.
Sara Lee Schupf: Advocate for Women, Science, and Democracy
Sara Lee Schupf is regarded for the tremendous impact she has made as an advocate for women in science. She funded a nationally recognized award for an outstanding woman in science.
With the National Academy of Sciences, she co-funded Women’s Adventures in Science, a biography series about women scientists written for middle school children. The series aims to inspire a new generation of young people, especially girls, to consider further study and possible future careers in science. In 2009, Ms. Schupf created, developed, and launched a program called SciPlay, which uses the outdoor playground as a resource for learning and teaching science. In 2011, SciPlay became the Schupf Family Center for Science, Play, and Technology Learning at the New York Hall of Science. She also established the Lubin Family Chair for Women in Science at Skidmore College and the Lubin-Schupf Chair for Academic Technology and Learning Innovation at the Emma Willard School, a private secondary school for girls in Troy, New York.
Ms. Schupf’s philanthropy and interests extend beyond science. Elected to the Academy in 2002 and an influential member of the Academy’s Trust, she recently made a $1 million gift through the Lubin Family Foundation to support the implementation of Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century, the final report of the Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship. Regarding her gift, Ms. Schupf wrote, “I am proud to have our family foundation support this important endeavor, and happy to have the opportunity to help make the difference I believe Our Common Purpose will encourage and inspire.”
The insights found in Our Common Purpose have come at a pivotal moment in American history. The Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship has called for significant progress on the six strategies and thirty-one recommendations outlined in the report by 2026, the nation’s 250th anniversary. This work will be possible in large part by the generosity of Ms. Schupf.