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Robert and Suzanne Davidow give $100,000 gift to support Smeal’s sustainability efforts

January 11, 2018

The Smeal College of Business has received a $100,000 gift from alumnus Robert Davidow and his wife, Suzanne, to create the Davidow Excellence in Sustainability Fund. 

“Rob and Suzanne have been passionate advocates for solutions to some of the most critical global sustainability challenges, with a particular interest in water insecurity,” said Michelle Houser, senior director of development and alumni relations. “This generous new commitment will extend their legacy of support for these critical issues.” 

Under the leadership of Charles H. Whiteman, the John and Becky Surma Dean of Smeal, sustainability has become a strategic priority for the college. This is evident throughout Smeal, from efforts to achieve LEED-EB (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-Existing Building) gold-level certification for the Business Building, to leadership of the annual national MBA Sustainability Case Competition, to participation in the Beaver Stadium Zero Waste Program, to the strategic choice to hire a dedicated director of sustainability. 

“The world is becoming more focused on conserving the environment, and Smeal has recognized this trend and integrated it into its studies,” Rob Davidow said. “Business fundamentals are of paramount importance for today’s students, but when you combine that with sustainability, you can have a powerful social impact. It’s important for the University to encourage and teach sustainable business practices, and I am excited to watch Smeal collaborate with other departments at Penn State to develop unique strategies to the business challenges arising from a growing populace.” 

Smeal hired Erik Foley as director of sustainability in November 2015. Foley noted the growing shift in business trends, as businesses focus not just on the financial bottom line, but the social and environmental bottom line as well. 

“Sustainability offers a way to identify the risks and opportunities in this new ‘triple bottom line’ and, therefore, the way we educate students needs to include this critical skillset and mindset,” he said. “One way we will address how we prepare students to be leaders in sustainable business practice is through the creation of a Center for the Business of Sustainability. The Davidows’ gift has allowed for conversations with our Sustainability Advisory Board around the center’s creation and will lay the groundwork for the support we’ll need to launch the center.” 

Smeal has been a leader among business schools internationally and among academic units at Penn State in answering the call for sustainability. Just five years ago, Smeal became one of the first business schools in the world to write a dedicated sustainability strategic plan. Under the plan, sustainability is infused into courses across the business curriculum, including a required course for all Smeal students, a two-piece elective sequence for undergraduates, and a concentration in the Penn State Smeal MBA program. 

“Substantively, Smeal is on the leading edge for our sustainability efforts, not just at Penn State, but for business schools around the world,” Whiteman said. “However, we lack the formal infrastructure to be recognized as a true leader. The Davidows’ gift will help change that, and I am grateful for their belief in our vision for sustainable business education for undergraduates up through high-level executives of global corporations who are participating with our executive education programs.” 

Houser said she hopes this gift sets a trend for Smeal and its alumni.

“The Davidows recognize the important role that Smeal can play in delivering sustainability education to tomorrow’s business leaders, and their gift will provide critical resources as we work to build a center that focuses on the pedagogy of sustainability,” she said. “I hope Rob and Suzanne’s generosity inspires other Smeal alumni to consider how they too can impact the world through philanthropy.”

Beyond Penn State, the Davidows have also made philanthropic investments in The Technion, an Israeli university, to support water research. Their gifts have supported The Technion’s success in helping to make Israel a water-sufficient country, despite its desert climate.

Rob Davidow, a private investor, graduated from Penn State in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He and his wife live in Los Angeles.

Gifts from Penn State's alumni and friends have been essential to the success of the University's historic land-grant mission to serve the public good. To fulfill that mission for a new era of rapid change and global connections, the University has begun “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” a fast-paced campaign focused on the three key imperatives of a public university: Private support will keep the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; create transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impact the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more, visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu

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