to ‘grow the base’ of talented scientists
KINGSTON, R.I. — July 31, 2006 — Some talented but needy Rhode Island high school students who intend to major in either physics, chemistry, computer science, math, chemical engineering, or computer engineering at the University of Rhode Island will get their full college tuition and fees paid, thanks to a couple of former Rhode Islanders.
“The United States is not graduating enough technical talent,” says Jim Diller, a 1957 URI physics alumnus and pioneer in the semiconductor field. The retired entrepreneur and business executive and his wife, June, have pledged $800,000 to establish a permanent endowed fund for the future scientists. “We’re trying to grow the base.”
Asked why the Californians –the couple has lived out-of-state for decades– donated to URI, Jim responds simply: “I’m a graduate, and the University of Rhode Island was there when I needed it.”
The Dillers stipulate that the scholarships go to the most talented Rhode Island students with the greatest financial need.
“I especially feel strongly about a need-based scholarship,” says June who earned a psychology degree from Brown University. “I could have never gone to Brown without being given a full-tuition scholarship.”
“Jim and June Diller have lived the American dream, and they believe that their university experiences made that possible,” said URI President Robert L. Carothers. “They now want to make living that dream possible for the next generations of students, especially those who can help build the new economy in America. We thank the Dillers most sincerely on behalf of all of our future recipients.”
In its first year, the endowment should produce enough funds to pay for the tuition and fees of one student. In its second year, the James and June Diller Endowed Scholarship will continue to support the original student, plus an additional student, and so on for the third and fourth years provided the students continue to major in one of the stipulated science, math, or engineering fields. Thus, by the fourth year and beyond, there will be at least four students receiving Diller Scholarships. Any remaining funds generated by the endowment may be used to pay for the recipients’ books and/or lab fees.
Jim’s family moved to Rhode Island from the South after World War II and settled in Warwick. He met June Nyberg who lived in a different section of that city, at a church social when he was 17 and she was 15. The childhood sweethearts have been together ever since.
Jim enrolled at URI because it was affordable and although he wanted to live away from home, he didn’t want to be too far from June. Always a hard worker—he got his first job when he was 12—Jim rolled up his sleeves at the University, washing dishes at the Student Union and serving meals at his fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta.
After graduation, Jim attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a year. He left to pursue a career in new semi-conductor industry. He began in Boston but within five years, the couple moved to California, where the industry was centered.
He joined Fairchild Semiconductor, moving into management within a few years. He spent a year in Hong Kong managing Far East manufacturing in Hong Kong and Seoul.
Joining National Semiconductor in 1969, he started European operations near Munich. He stayed with National serving various management capacities, including two years in Singapore where he managed Far East manufacturing.
In 1984, Jim founded Sierra Semiconductor, which initially produced chips for the computer industry. The company went public on NASDAQ in 1991. As the Internet exploded the networking business grew dramatically and became the focus of the company. At this point, the company changed its name to PMC-Sierra, which was the name of the division producing these products. In 1997, Jim retired briefly. He joined Elantec Semiconductor as CEO to help turn the company around. In 2000, after a successful turnaround, Jim retired a second time although he remains active serving on the boards of two public and two private companies.
In their leisure time, Jim and June enjoy spending time with their two sons and four grandchildren who live nearby. The couple also travels and enjoys outdoor activities.
The Dillers’ generous gift is part of URI’s Making a Difference Campaign, which seeks $100 million to recruit and retain outstanding faculty, enhance the student-centered campus experience, provide s undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships, and fund cutting-edge academic and research initiatives.
Facts about student enrollment in the sciences
In 2005 URI undergraduate enrollment totaled 12,099. The number of students majoring in Diller Scholarship designated areas:
Physics = 27
Chemistry = 119
Computer Science = 161
Math = 109
Chemical Engineering = 56
Computer Engineering = 96
Keeping America Competitive
Jim Diller’s concern about the lack of a talented scientific workforce is well founded. Globalization has raised the limbo bar on technology, innovation, productivity and profits. While the U.S. remains a major player, other countries are bending over backwards to catch up and surpass it, according to a recent Newsweek article. The article pointed out that more than 50 percent of America’s science laboratories are filled with foreign students or immigrants and without these students, the nation’s leadership position would fold.