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$20 Million Gift from Conrad Prebys

The largest gift ever made to SDSU will create scholarships for 150 students annually.
Conrad Prebys has donated $20 million to SDSU scholarships.
Conrad Prebys has donated $20 million to SDSU scholarships.

Conrad Prebys said he has felt a connection to San Diego State University for decades. Now, that connection has become an official relationship, thanks to a $20 million gift from the renowned San Diego philanthropist to create several endowed scholarships, the university announced today. In recognition of his gift, which will support at least 150 students annually—and is the single largest gift ever made to SDSU—the university’s newly opened student union has been named Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union.  

Thanks to Prebys, SDSU will offer additional scholarships to student veterans and to students in bio-medical research, the creative and performing arts, the Guardian Scholars program, entrepreneurship, leadership and the SDSU Honors program.

Important investment

Prebys, who was born and raised in a working-class Indiana town, understands the demands on students and the importance of investing in higher education.

“The idea of scholarships for students intrigued me, because I know how difficult it is going to college right now,” Prebys said. “Back when I was going to school, it was no big deal to work while you were going to school. Now it can’t be done, really. It’s very difficult and expensive.”

The gift thrusts The Campaign for SDSU past the $465 million mark toward its goal of $500 million. Since it launched in 2007, more than 45,000 donors have contributed to the university’s first-ever comprehensive fundraising campaign. More than $87 million has been raised for student scholarships.

“As one of our most distinguished community leaders, Conrad Prebys has, literally and figuratively, helped build San Diego from the ground up through his real estate development and his philanthropic support of our cultural, educational and medical institutions,” said SDSU President Elliot Hirshman. “The endowed scholarships Conrad is creating will transform our campus, providing support for programs throughout the university. We are deeply grateful for this gift and Conrad's profound commitment to our students and their futures.”

Inspiration to give

Prebys, who is known throughout the San Diego region for his support of such organizations as KPBS, the San Diego Zoo, the Boys and Girls Club and the Old Globe Theater, The La Jolla Music Society, The San Diego Opera, Scripps Mercy Hospital, Scripps Prebys Cardiovascular Center, Sanford/Burnham Medical Research Institute and the Salk Institute, says his inspiration for giving stems more from emotion than lengthy conversations and proposals.

“The conditions of my philanthropy, I have to have it in my gut. A lot of conversation and dialogue about it doesn’t work much. It’s got to be there right from the get go,” Prebys said. “I’m pleased with everything I’ve done in philanthropy. And right now, my favorite is San Diego State.”

Though his philanthropy has been varied and widespread, Prebys has never before supported student scholarships.

“This is a first for me. That was the real hook,” he said. “And that’s why I want to get really involved in it.  I want to learn, and I want to be involved with the students. So this is a new adventure for me.”

Prebys’ gift will support scholarships in the following areas:

  • Student Veterans: students who have served our county, are within two semesters of graduating and have exhausted their GI benefits and other forms of financial support.
  • Bio-Medical Research: these students represent a broad cross section of university students intending to pursue careers in bio-medical research and bio-medical engineering.
  • Creative and Performing Arts: these students represent a broad cross section of the creative and performing arts at the university, including musical theatre, art, poetry and creative writing.
  • Guardian Scholars: SDSU students who are former foster youth and who require year- round support as they do not have families to assist them with their expenses. 
  • Entrepreneurship: students who demonstrate significant propensity for entrepreneurial achievement and will participate in formal programs in the Zahn Innovation Center and/or the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center.
  • Leadership: participants in SDSU’s Associated Students leadership team and other formal university leadership programs.
  • SDSU Honors Program: high achieving students involved in a program of rigorous study emphasizing creativity, leadership, and critical thinking.

Campaign momentum

“The future of San Diego State depends a lot on philanthropy,” said Mary Ruth Carleton, SDSU’s Vice President of University Relations and Development, referring to the decline in state support for higher education in recent years. “And being associated with Conrad Prebys in such a meaningful way is very important to that effort. This gift really helps the momentum of our campaign. Because we still have students who need scholarships, we need faculty support, and we need to think about building new buildings with philanthropy.”

While this gift marks the formal relationship between Prebys and SDSU, the philanthropist has long-standing ties to the university.

“When I started thinking about it, it turns out everyone that works for me went to San Diego State,” he said. “So we’ve been connected for years and years. And I’ve said in a joking manner, we finally made it legal. And so the more I got into it, it was a done deal. I feel so right about it, so very right. I’m proud to be officially connected to San Diego State.”


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