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Saturday, December 2, 2023

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(From left) Jacqueline Clayton, engineering student Rocio Lopez, and Bruce Urquhart attended SDSU's annual Evening Celebrating Philanthropy on Oct. 16. (From left) Jacqueline Clayton, engineering student Rocio Lopez, and Bruce Urquhart attended SDSU's annual Evening Celebrating Philanthropy on Oct. 16.

An Evening of Celebration, and Gifts That Never End

Each year, SDSU celebrates its most generous donors, whose support has enhanced college opportunities for thousands of students.
By Jeff Ristine

One of the architectural wonders of San Diego County is the West Lilac Road overpass of Interstate 15 north of Escondido, nearly 700 feet long and majestically rising 122 feet above the roadway.

It’s obvious even 45 years after its construction that it must have been an overwhelming challenge from a civil engineering standpoint. What’s not so obvious is that the bridge came first, and how hard it was to prepare for the construction of the 15 itself, dug out from the natural landscape that once rose to the same elevation as Lilac Road.

As a recent San Diego State University geography graduate and young surveyor for CalTrans, Bruce Urquhart remembers scrabbling through the rocky hills, trying to avoid slithering lifeforms and thick, uncomfortable vegetation to drive stakes and perform other pre-construction activity along the corridor to the Riverside County line. Work on the four-year project often showed up as scratches and cuts on his legs at the end of the day, and “It was not for the faint of heart,” he said.

It was part of a career that helped place Urquhart and his wife, Jacqueline Clayton, in an elite corps of SDSU donors. The university’s Evening Celebrating Philanthropy honors those who have contributed a cumulative $1 million or more to SDSU. The 12th annual celebration, a dinner held Oct. 16 at Montezuma Hall in Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union, was attended by more than 40 past awardees, and five new inductees were given presidential medallions, presented in a velvet-line box, that come with achieving the milestone.

“Your gifts and philanthropy fuel our success every day,” SDSU President Adela de la Torre said at the event, “and have allowed us to reach new heights for our students, institution and community that I could never have imagined five years ago.”

Generous giving

Nearly 180 individuals and organizations accounting for a total of more than $608 million in scholarships, building funds and other support have been inducted into the elite group, dubbed Summa Cum Laude. Many of the gifts are endowments, guaranteeing an impact in perpetuity.

Urquhart, now a highly rated SDSU adjunct professor and lecturer in a survey class, and Clayton were inducted in 2014. Their contributions, including a planned gift, have supported both KPBS and an endowed scholarship for the university’s program in civil engineering, the field to which Urquhart pivoted after graduating in 1978 and deciding geography wasn’t the right fit for him.

They attended this year’s dinner and “I look forward to it,” Urquhart said, adding that it helps forge an enduring connection with SDSU.

“I get great satisfaction out of seeing students thrive,” he said. “I just like to be able to give.”

Clayton said she likes being part of a formal donor group and knowing that, as a former first-year college student who got a small scholarship “from people I’d never met,” she is now helping to pay it forward. “I never forgot that generosity,” she said.

One of the primary targets for the couple’s support are returning veterans, whom Urquhart said have “a very special place in my heart."

One two-time recipient of the couple’s scholarship was an ex-Marine with two deployments to the Middle East who wound up in Urquhart’s surveying class. Married, with children, he was living in Riverside County and working in Oceanside and he knew he needed to get back to school to achieve his calling.

“I was so grateful to see him graduate this last year,” Urquhart said. Equally gratifying was where the civil engineering graduate later snagged his first professional job.

It was Urquhart's old employer, CalTrans.