With a vision of cultivating leadership skills beyond the playing field, Georgetown announced Tuesday night one the largest gifts in the university’s history and the biggest single gift focused on athletics.
The $50 million gift, made by Peter and Susan Cooper of Newport Beach, Calif., will have the dual purpose of expanding a relatively new leadership program for Hoyas athletes and upgrading the central-campus field that hosts football, field hockey, lacrosse and numerous club sports.
In a telephone interview on the eve of the university’s announcement, Georgetown President John J. DeGioia said the gift “honors the idea at the heart of intercollegiate athletics: The leadership our students learn on the field impacts, in a profound way, their formation as women and men and their ability to respond to the challenges they will confront throughout their lifetime.”
Cooper, a former member of the university’s board of directors and the father of five Georgetown graduates, explained that his family chose to make the donation because of their first-hand experience with, and conviction in, the transformative power of the participating in college sports.
Three of the Coopers’ sons played football at Georgetown, while a daughter, Kylie, was co-captain of the swim team.
“There is a lot of hardship and challenge involved in competing at Georgetown academically and athletically at the same time,” said Cooper, a New Zealand native who founded and serves as executive chairman of Cooper and Company, a real estate and private equity investment firm. “We were somewhat touched by the commitment we saw in these individuals and teams. So it is quite a joy for us to be able to make this gift.”
Of the gift’s initial installment of $15 million, $10 million will be spent on adding seats, locker rooms and other upgrades to Multi-Sport Field, which lies adjacent to the $62 million John R. Thompson Intercollegiate Athletics Center currently under construction. Work on enhancements to the field is expected to begin in summer 2016, following a design phase that is underway. Upon completion, expected to be 12 to 18 months later, it will be renamed Cooper Field.
The balance of the initial installment will underwrite and expand a leadership program that was designed for and launched in 2013 for the roughly 750 athletes who compete on Georgetown’s 29 varsity teams — roughly 10 percent of the 7,595 undergraduate student body.
It is that part of the donation that is potentially unique in college sports philanthropy, which most often funds stadium construction and facilities upgrades rather than academically based programs.
Many universities that compete in Division I sports have life-skills programs that provide varsity athletes with academic tutoring, time-management strategies and résumé-writing help. Georgetown is among the few, according to university officials, that provide its athletes with structured leadership training.
That initiative, known as Hoyas Lead, resulted from visits by an outside consultant brought in three years ago to talk with athletes about sound decision-making and working collaboratively — topics with implications well beyond the locker room and playing field. Georgetown’s freshmen and sophomore athletes are strongly encouraged to participate in Hoyas Lead, while upperclassmen have the option of advanced training if they choose.
Hoyas Lead carries no academic credit toward graduation, but it teaches leadership through an academic framework, offering what Athletic Director Lee Reed describes as “a deep dive” on developing leadership skills with an eye toward succeeding in life as well as in sports.
“That’s the exciting part of this,” Reed said. “It’s a cutting-edge, unique approach.”
Currently housed in Georgetown’s School of Continuing Studies, the program is run by Mike Lorenzen, assistant athletics director for student-athlete leadership, who will continue in that role. A former gymnastics coach at Iowa, Lorenzen earned a master’s in international relations at Yale and doctorate in education from the University of the Pacific.
The program will be expanded as a result of the Cooper gift and renamed the Cooper Athletics Leadership Program. But many details remain in the development stage in light of the infusion of funds, such as whether the program will hire new faculty members, become part of the undergraduate curriculum and eventually carry academic credit.
“We’re on a journey,” DeGioia said, noting that the provost’s office would oversee its development.
The $50 million gift is not the single biggest gift to Georgetown from an individual. It is trumped by a $100 million gift by former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt in 2013, to endow the School of Public Policy.
Cooper served two terms on Georgetown’s Board of Directors, from 2001 to 2006 and then again from 2007 to 2013. During his tenure he served as the chairman of the investment subcommittee, overseeing growth of Georgetown’s endowment.