A Woodinville investor has given $20 million to expand a college-scholarship program to help students studying science, technology, engineering, math and health fields.
He never went to college himself, but he never doubted its impact to change lives.
Now Gary Rubens, a Woodinville investor, has given $20 million to expand the reach of a college-scholarship program to an additional 6,800 low-income Washington students.
Rubens, his wife, Jennifer, and the Rubens Family Foundation announced the gift this week. It will go to the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship, a public-private partnership. Under the terms of the scholarship, created in 2011, Washington state must match Rubens’ donation, bringing the total amount to $40 million.
The Opportunity Scholarship helps students who plan to major in science, technology, engineering, math or health care.
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Rubens said he hoped his gift would inspire others to give to the scholarship fund. Set up by former Gov. Chris Gregoire with $50 million in donations — $25 million each from Microsoft and Boeing — the scholarship has been awarded to 4,400 students since its inception.
Rubens’ gift will be given over five years to freshmen and sophomores, which serves as a challenge to the scholarship board to find more donors to keep the scholarship going when those students are juniors and seniors, said its executive director, Naria Santa Lucia.
In the past, more than half the scholarship’s recipients have been first-generation college students, 60 percent have been female and more than half identified themselves as students of color, according to the scholarship board.
Rubens made money by launching a home-furnishing and fixtures e-commerce site that was later acquired by the big-box hardware chain Lowe’s. After the sale, he became an angel investor in tech startups.
“What I lacked in education I made up for in tenacity,” Rubens said. But he added, “I don’t think I’m a good example of what happens to most people” if they don’t go to college.
Santa Lucia said the scholarship board wants to encourage businesspeople who have made fortunes in tech fields to invest in education, so more low- and middle-income students can have those same opportunities. The legislation that created the scholarship requires the state to match contributions.
Students who win the award receive $2,500 a year for the first two years of their education, $5,000 in their junior year and $7,500 in their senior year; if they study a fifth year, they can get an additional $5,000.
The scholarships are structured that way because students in their junior and senior years are often doing internships or research, and can’t work part time to help subsidize their education, Santa Lucia said.
She said students who are eligible for the scholarships have families with incomes up to the median household level in Washington — which is $105,000 a year for a family of four. The grants are meant to reach at least some students who don’t qualify for other financial aid because their family income is too high.
This is the second time in the last two years that the Rubens family has put money into scholarships. Last year, the family made a $4.5 million gift for a separate program that assisted 180 low-income Washington students.