Airbnb Cofounder Supports RISD Scholarships
San Francisco-based designer Joe Gebbia 05 ID/GD, cofounder of the phenomenally successful startup Airbnb, has made a significant gift to RISD in support of student scholarships. The gift was announced at today’s Scholarship Luncheon, an annual event during which current scholarship recipients and their supporters who contribute funds have an opportunity to meet and talk. Hosted by interim President Rosanne Somerson 76 ID, today’s luncheon marks the 10th anniversary of the popular event, with more than 100 students and donors in attendance.
In remarks at the luncheon, the president pointed out that Gebbia’s gift builds on considerable momentum in scholarship fundraising at RISD at a time when the cost of higher education and crushing loan debt are in the news almost daily. In the last five years, the number of eligible admitted students who receive aid at RISD has risen from 40.2% to 78.5%, she noted. “This is a tribute to all of you,” Somerson added in a nod to donors. “Not only are you scholarship supporters, you also make up the fabric of who we are – friends with a love of art and design, family of former faculty members and alumni, parents of graduates, grandparents of past and future RISD students, trustees, alumni, former faculty, representatives from organizations that believe in scholarships. You are all investors in what makes RISD so special.”
A former scholarship recipient himself, Gebbia has pledged $300,000 to create both a $50,000 term scholarship for immediate use and an endowed fund that will make RISD accessible for talented students in need of financial assistance. Although he wasn’t able to attend the luncheon in person, he created a heartfelt video addressed to students at the event and has made a conscious effort to keep connected with RISD, joining the Board of Trustees in 2011 and returning to campus to speak at the Career Center’sMindshare event in 2012.
“I remember taking on loans and wondering why things had to be this way,” Gebbia says. “I wanted to help future RISD students spend more time thinking about the studio and less time thinking about their bills.”
Gebbia recalls the “life-changing” summer of 1999 when he attended RISD’sPre-College Program. “It was one of those moments when you discover what you want to do in life. Between the studio environment and the creative people I met, I knew I wanted to go to RISD.” Once he had been accepted and became deeply engaged with RISD’s culture and community, he says that being here “allowed me to express my creativity, no matter how weird, and feel OK about it.”
Junior Michelle Munive 15 IA had a similar epiphany when she visited RISD with her parents as a high school junior. “I knew right away that RISD was my dream school,” she recalls. The following year, she was delighted to be accepted to RISD but worried about getting too deep into debt if she came.
Fortunately, Munive learned that she would receive sufficient scholarship support to enable her to attend, though she initially didn’t know whose gift had made that possible. Now, as the first student to benefit from the Joe Gebbia Term Scholarship, the environmentally conscious Interior Architecture major says, “Without the scholarship, I would not have been able to continue my dream of studying at RISD.”
Speaking about the impact of his gift, Somerson says, “Joe Gebbia embodies how a RISD education produces creative change agents who use their critical thinking and critical making skills to improve the world and reinvent the future. Joe has always been curious and willing to take on big challenges – qualities that have made him a successful entrepreneur. We are proud of him and everything that he has achieved, and are grateful that he is generously giving back to RISD students who have demonstrated the same potential and qualities that he exemplifies.”
Gebbia himself says, “I still feel like part of the RISD family. I’ve always wanted to stay connected to RISD and I’ve always wanted to give back. It makes me feel good that there’s a student out there who won’t have to deal with the debt – who will have a more clear path to go out and change the world.”