From pantries to professions: alumni couple give $8M for holistic student support

Noelle and Michael Hurlston want all students at the University of California, Davis, to have every opportunity for a successful future. The alumni and longtime donors are giving $8 million to support Aggies along every step of their college paths, from meeting basic needs to offering the very best career development, innovation opportunities and graduate school experiences.

“We want our gifts to touch as many UC Davis students on campus as possible, beyond just the colleges we graduated from,” Joelle Hurlston said. “We targeted different aspects of career and academic development at our three colleges, but also wanted to help all students by supporting a program to eliminate food insecurity.”

A significant portion of the contribution will establish the first endowed deanship on the Davis campus at the Graduate School of Management. This is the university’s second endowed deanship, with the first created in 2015 at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis Health.

The remainder of the Hurlstons’ gift will benefit three distinct undergraduate areas: the Diane Bryant Engineering Student Design Center in the College of Engineering; the Division of Student Affairs’ Internship and Career Center for career development for agricultural and environmental sciences students; and Student Affairs’ Aggie Compass Basic Needs Center.

“Joelle and Michael’s generosity shows just how much they love and care for the success of our students and leaders,” said Shaun Keister, vice chancellor of Development and Alumni Relations and president of the UC Davis Foundation. “They are the quintessential alumni couple, and we deeply appreciate their passion for UC Davis.”

An Aggie family

The college sweethearts, who met as undergraduates, credit UC Davis for their fulfilling careers. Joelle Hurlston, a 1989 College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences alumna, is a hazardous materials consultant who inspects new facilities at manufacturing companies in Silicon Valley.

Michael Hurlston — a 1988 College of Engineering graduate who went on to earn both an M.B.A. (1990) and M.S. (1991) from UC Davis — has worked as an executive at Broadcom (technology) and Finisar (optical communications), and is currently the CEO of Synaptics, a semiconductor company that prides itself in engineering exceptional experiences.

Longtime donors to many areas across UC Davis, in 2016 the Hurlstons endowed a presidential chair that rotates between the Graduate School of Management, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and College of Engineering.

Endowing a deanship

Rao Unnava

The endowed deanship at the Graduate School of Management will provide funds for teaching, research and outreach at the dean’s direction, opening opportunities for Dean H. Rao Unnava to advance the mission of the school.

“This gift will make a substantive difference in our ability to retain our faculty who are among the very best in the world, as well as build new programs and recruit the brightest students to the Graduate School of Management,” Unnava said. “Michael and Joelle Hurlston are exemplary alumni, always looking for ways to contribute to UC Davis.”

The Hurlstons said they admire Unnava’s work and leadership, and hope that the deanship will bolster his plans for business education innovation. Unnava joined the school in June 2016 following 32 years at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, where he earned his Ph.D. and most recently served as the W. Arthur Cullman professor of marketing.

“Dean Unnava came in with an unbelievable level of energy,” said Michael Hurlston, who is a member of the Graduate School of Management’s Dean’s Advisory Council. “He has been a change agent for the school and has found different ways to elevate its brand.”

Supporting the whole student

Joelle and Michael Hurlston’s gift to the Division of Student Affairs will help UC Davis students with programs, services and facilities that foster academic success, student development and campus community.

“The investment from the Hurlstons will catalyze our efforts to serve students holistically, from overcoming the challenges of meeting basic needs to career development,” said Pablo G. Reguerín, vice chancellor for Student Affairs. “We’re excited to partner with Joelle and Michael, who share our vision to support our students in a profound way and help launch them into their careers beyond UC Davis.”

The donors say their inspiration to give to career development for College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences students stems from their own recent experience as college parents.

“After having had two children go through college and needing to start their own careers, I’ve seen how students struggle to find internships and figure out what they want to do when they graduate,” Joelle Hurlston said. “Michael and I are hoping that our gift will open doors for students who might not know how to get internships because it’s not an easy task.”

The Hurlstons’ daughter, Shannon, graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2019 and now works at Roku; their son, Patrick, will graduate this year from the College of William & Mary and will work at Ernst & Young in New York City.

With their gift to the Aggie Compass Basic Needs Center, the Hurlstons will help mitigate the effects of food and housing insecurity on students and sustain the future of the program. Joelle Hurlston said she hopes students will then be able to home in on their passions and seek guidance to ultimately achieve a rewarding career.

Design center open to all

The Diane Bryant Engineering Student Design Center is a result of dedicated alumni and donors who understand the importance of hands-on educational experiences.

Due to be completed in the fall of 2022, the center will provide an inclusive, supervised space to practice manufacturing and fabrication techniques and include a student startup center for entrepreneurial ventures.

“We are so very excited and thankful for the Hurlstons’ generous gift to support the Diane Bryant Engineering Student Design Center, which promises to transform the college’s educational and research opportunities, and positively impact the next generation of engineers,” said Richard Corsi, dean of the College of Engineering.

When the Hurlstons learned more about the new design center, they loved the idea that students in any major could use the facilities to enhance their studies.

“We were impressed because of its wide reach on campus. We wanted to contribute to the center in some small way and recognize our affiliation with the College of Engineering,” said Michael Hurlston, who serves on the Dean’s Executive Committee for that college.

Campaign momentum

The Hurlstons’ gift — a combination of current and estate gifts — is part of UC Davis’ $2 billion fundraising campaign, Expect Greater: From UC Davis, For the World, the largest philanthropic endeavor in university history.

“Joelle and Michael’s gift will be tremendously impactful for our students for years to come, helping them grow into the world’s future leaders and change makers,” Keister said.

With the help of more than 107,000 donors and friends, UC Davis has raised more than $1.5 billion to date. Together, donors and UC Davis are advancing work to prepare future leaders, sustain healthier communities, and bring innovative solutions to today’s most urgent challenges.