Keith Behner, ’71, and Catherine Stiefel , ’92, led interesting and accomplished lives before they ever met. Now, their combined world view has shaped a unique, multidimensional gift to The Campaign for SDSU.
The couple’s $1 million donation will benefit hundreds of students in her alma mater, the College of Business, and his, the College of Arts and Letters by expanding curricula in both colleges and establishing endowments to ensure SDSU’s ability to educate future generations of students.
Behner and Stiefel have supported SDSU in the past. They currently fund 12 scholarships in the College of Business and another 12 in the Department of Political Science. But the generosity of their recent gift signals a renewed commitment to champion the university as it struggles with declining state support.
“The size of our gift reflects our dismay over the severe budget cuts SDSU is attempting to mitigate, as well as our desire to enhance the educational experience,” Behner said.
Neither Stiefel nor Behner attended SDSU directly from high school. She made a radical career shift from professional chef to top-of-the-class business graduate. He served two tours in Vietnam with the Navy Seabees in support of Marine Corp combat operations—and received eight ribbons and medals for that service—before earning a degree in political science.
Later, Stiefel worked as a CPA and Behner as a real estate investment broker and planning director for the community of Rancho Santa Fe.
Stronger core curriculum
Within the College of Arts and Letters, $350,000 of the couple’s gift will establish a “true endowment” to finance the continuation and enhancement of the Latin American Studies program.
Another $150,000 will be expended over five years to strengthen the core curriculum in Latin American Studies, supporting courses that would have been curtailed or even eliminated by budget cuts in subject areas as diverse as political science, history, economics, Spanish and Portuguese.
"Keith and Cathy’s support of Latin American Studies is indeed timely,” said Paul Wong, dean of the College of Arts and Letters. “The region is extremely important for our teaching and research programs throughout the university."
Behner and Stiefel share a profound respect for the peoples and cultures of Latin America and strong opinions about the importance of SDSU taking a “leadership role in fostering enhanced understanding of the social, political and economic issues that both bind and separate San Diego from its southern neighbors.”
As a child, Stiefel spent two years in Puerto Rico, while her father established a branch of the family’s pharmaceutical company. Behner became fluent in Portuguese during four teenage years in Brazil. His father, a career U.S. Naval officer, was an adviser to the Brazilian navy.
Graduates of choice
SDSU’s College of Business also benefits from the couple’s gift of $500,000 to the Charles W. Lamden School of Accountancy.
More than half will support the development of a technology-driven initiative to help students understand how businesses operate. The technology—known as SAP—will be used in the classroom to create business laboratories. Stiefel, a retired accountant, said SAP certification will position SDSU students as “graduates of choice” in their fields.
"Cathy and Keith's transformational gift will allow our students to build an experiential professional toolkit to ensure they stand out in the competitive job market,” said Michael R. Cunningham, dean of the College of Business Administration.
The couple’s gift also establishes a pilot career development program for accounting majors and a pilot mentoring program for accounting students.
SDSU’s Career Services and Beta Alpha Psi, an honorary organization for financial information students and professionals, will partner with the Lamden School of Accounting to establish the mentoring program and encourage undergraduates to pursue graduate accounting degrees.
“The need to step up and support has never been greater and we urge others to join us in providing additional support during these troubling times,” Stiefel said.