Dan van der Weide knows all about risks. Understanding the risk profile of the products sold by each of his start-up companies has been a key component of the electrical and computer engineering professor’s success in the private sector. But knowing the risks isn’t something that’s limited to the business world. “People entering higher education, especially pursuing a graduate degree, are often taking a risk,” says van der Weide. “They say, ‘I am going to forego some of my earning potential in the short term, I’m going to quit my job, and I’m going to submit myself to classes and research for what I hope will be a better outcome than I would otherwise have.’”
That’s why van der Weide and his wife, Elizabeth, started the van der Weide Family Fund, an initial gift of $50,000 that will be used to support electrical and computer engineering graduate students working in his research group. Funding for the initial gift comes in part from the sale of Optametra, a developer of instrumentation for long-haul fiber-optic communications van der Weide and his partner Robert Marsland founded in 2007. The company was acquired by Tektronix in 2011, and the van der Weide family elected to use some of the profits to give back to the university, in part in thanks for its support of start-up companies.
Van der Weide hopes funds like this can become a regular source of support for grad education with the aid of contributions from like-minded donors. “Many students, especially in fields like engineering, are taking time out of what could be a high-paying career to advance their understanding,” says van der Weide. “I want to reward students who are aiming for excellence.”