Bren Hall Courtyard Named to Honor Endowment

Bren students, faculty, administration, staff, and friends convened at Bren Hall on Oct. 28 to show their appreciation for a major new endowment; to honor Michael J. Connell, who established the fund in the 1930s; and to thank Richard Wilson, the fund trustee who directed the endowment to the Bren School. The courtyard has been named the Michael J. Connell Memorial Courtyard.

Richard Wilson (back row, center) and recipients of
the first Michael J. Connell Memorial Fellowships

Bren professor Tom Dunne began the event inside Bren Hall's largest lecture hall by speaking about Mr. Wilson, a longtime acquaintance, and his determined and unceasing efforts to protect the environment and bring hard science to the management of natural resources.

Next, four of the eleven students who are the first recipients of Michael J. Connell Memorial Fellowships, spoke about their studies, their professional aspirations, and the difference the fellowships make in allowing them to pursue their goals and dreams. The event then moved to the courtyard, where the 2010-2011 version of Brengrass played in the warm night air, the dedication was made, the new name plate was unveiled, and Mr. Wilson addressed the group about the importance of bringing science to policy.

 

Background

Michael J. Connell was born in Ireland in 1854 and immigrated to the U.S. as a young man, enjoying significant financial success in retail, mining, real estate and banking. He incorporated the Michael J. Connell Charities, Ltd. in 1931 (which ultimately became the Michael J. Connell Foundation) to manage his broad based philanthropic  interests in the arts and education. But one cause, the environment, was especially dear to him. Following his passing in 1936, the Michael J. Connell Memorial Fund was established as an independent trust, and the income

dedicated to the University of California, with no specific direction as to its use.

Recently, Richard Wilson, the only remaining trustee who has a familial connection to Mr. Connell, determined that the Bren School should ultimately be the beneficiary of the trust. As a lifelong conservationist, Mr. Wilson has devoted much of his productive energies toward utilizing natural resources in a sustainable way so that a given landscape can be productive for the economic benefit of its inhabitants. Speaking recently with Bren School dean, Steve Gaines, Mr. Wilson said, “I was keenly interested in shifting the benefit of these funds to the Bren School due to its underlying principle of bringing together the disciplines of environmental science, business management, policy, and law. I know Michael J. Connell would have been interested in this from his perspective in a different era, so I feel that this support to the Bren School carries forward his vision and is quite appropriate.”

Mr. Wilson feels that it is critical that a respected institution such as the Bren School have the resources that allow it to provide unbiased scientific information to decision makers in California and to the public at large. Mr. Wilson served as director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection from 1991-1999. During his tenure he participated on the front lines of environmental policy and conservation, witnessing a pressing need for environmental solutions to reconcile resource conservation and utilization with the economic forces that drive our way of life.

He was frequently frustrated by the lack of capacity in the university system to provide unbiased advice to state agencies. His commitment to the environment and to preserving our natural resources has been a central focus of his personal philosophy. At his direction, funds from the Michael J. Connell Memorial Fund are to be used by the Bren School “as it may determine, with some preference to be given to utilizing such distributions in the area of watershed protection and productivity and protection of forest lands as being critical to our water supply.”

By directing this endowment to the Bren School, Mr. Wilson continues a 150-year legacy of giving to the University of California and commences an unprecedented commitment to independent environmental science and management education and research at UC Santa Barbara.


Phd student Matt Kay discusses his research at the event.