Regent’s gift expanding opportunities for engineering students
A gift from alumna and Regent Janet Y. Spears ’86 will help transform the educational experience for engineering and computer science students at Pacific. Spears and her wife Rae Laguna are donating $100,000 for the new makerspace being developed on the south Stockton Campus.
“This will be a fantastic addition to their learning experience by having a hands-on space where engineers can collaborate with other students,” Spears said. “As a Black, female engineer I also wanted to support a space where people feel like they belong and could thrive.”
Studies have shown makerspaces promote diversity by building confidence through experiential learning. Spears and Laguna’s gift will help create an electronics zone within the space for students to collaborate on innovative projects. The makerspace is expected to be completed by fall 2023.
The generous gift is the most recent in Spears’ long history of supporting Pacific. She led the effort to create the Minority Engineering Endowed Scholarship Fund in 2014. The scholarship provides financial support to minority students enrolled in an engineering program.
Spears was inspired to create this scholarship after a woman contacted the foundation where she was working at the time, asking about scholarship opportunities.
“She was $2,000 shy of being able to attend Pacific and study engineering. That stuck with me because I was at a multi-million-dollar foundation, and we didn't have a scholarship program that fit her. It makes me emotional to this day because I felt like money was the missing link,” Spears said.
Donations from Spears, her Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sisters, fellow engineering alumni and her family enabled her to create the fund, which is helping students like Pedro Madera ’23, a mechanical engineering student.
“With this scholarship, I saw an increase in my GPA because I was able to lessen my workload outside of school,” Madera said. “It goes mostly to my tuition, but it’s also helping me with little things that I don’t have to worry about anymore, like gas or other expenses.”
He was able to renew the scholarship for the upcoming academic year. Two other students have also been selected.
“Regent Spears’ ongoing support of our engineering and computer science programs has had a tremendous impact on our students,” said Dean Elizabeth Orwin. “The scholarship she helped found allows them to focus on their academics and the makerspace will be an amazing asset that reimagines how our students learn and interact.”
Spears sees it as her way of giving back.
“Life is about opportunities and access and having access to University of the Pacific tremendously changed the outcome of my life,” she said.
A native of the Bay Area, Spears studied electrical engineering and said it was a perfect fit for someone who used to tinker on gadgets with her older brother. “He had a drawer of batteries, switches and all kinds of things. I would try to put something together and throw the switch and see what would happen,” she recalled.
Some of her fondest memories at Pacific were spent with the Society of Women Engineers. Its annual picnic introduced her to the female engineers who paved the way. She also was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. which she says helped her learn how to be more efficient with her time and talents.
Encouraged by some of her professors, Spears applied to graduate school and was accepted to Purdue University in Indiana, where she earned a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering. The graduate program was paid for by AT&T Bell Labs through a one year on-campus program, in which they paid students to earn their master’s degrees and then work for the company.
Spears spent 21 years with AT&T, moving through 11 different positions, from research and development to sales. At one point, she oversaw employees at four labs around the country where her team tested new products and services.
It was after first joining AT&T that Spears began her charitable giving to Pacific. The company had a program in which they would match employee donations.
“As my dad would say, ‘you never leave money on the table,’ so I started writing checks as soon as I graduated,” Spears said, “It was probably only about $25. I was paying student loans, so it was not much, but my parents always felt if you have something you should share.”
Spears has also shared her time. She joined the Dean’s Council for the School of Engineering and Computer Science in the early nineties and received the school’s Distinguished Alumna award in 2012. She also served on the Pacific alumni board for two years before becoming a regent in 2014.
Though Spears has transitioned to philanthropy work (she is currently chief executive officer at Metta Fund in San Francisco), her engineering background continues to shape her mindset.
“If you study engineering, you can do pretty much anything you want,” Spears said. “Engineering teaches you to think differently and strategically.”
To learn more about the makerspace project and how you can support, contact Dan Mackeben at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-946-2643.