Silicon Valley entrepreneur Bill Coleman, founder and chairman of BEA Systems in San Jose, and his wife Claudia, a former manager at Hewlett-Packard, have announced a $250 million donation to the University of Colorado. The cash gift, which is to be paid over five years, is believed to be the largest ever made to an American public university.
The donation will be used to fund the study of technological advances for people with cognitive disabilities such as such as Down Syndrome, autism, Alzheimer's disease, or the aftermath of stroke. The Colemans were inspired to make the gift in part by their niece, a 23-year-old woman with special needs whose dexterity, coordination, and communication skills were all improved by her use of a computer. She now works at a medical center and participates in the Special Olympics.
The university, which has promised to at least match the endowment, plans to establish the University of Colorado Coleman Institute of Cognitive Disabilities.
"The institute will make CU the international center of excellence in developing . . . technologies, based on advanced biomedical and computer research, for people with cognitive disabilities," said Elizabeth Hoffman, president of the university.
Neither of the Colemans — who live in Los Altos Hills, California, but also have a home in Aspen, Colorado, — attended the University of Colorado. According to Bill Coleman, the idea for the gift stems from a tour of CU's Center for LifeLong Learning and Design following his visit as a guest lecturer in a freshman computer science class.