Penn Arts & Sciences receives record $83.9 million gift

Alumnus Roy Vagelos and his wife, Diana, strengthen science research and education with their transformative gift to the University of Pennsylvania.

Diana and Roy Vagelos.
The gift from Roy and Diana Vagelos will fund scientific initiatives in Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences. (Image: David DeBalko)

The University of Pennsylvania announced today that P. Roy and Diana Vagelos have made a gift of $83.9 million to fund science initiatives across the School of Arts & Sciences. This commitment is the largest single gift ever made to the School and among the largest in Penn’s history. Their total support to Penn Arts & Sciences now stands at $239 million and represents an extraordinary investment in innovation and basic science.

The largest portion of this transformative gift, $50 million, will enhance graduate education in the Department of Chemistry, including the establishment of 20 new Vagelos Fellows. The gift is also establishing a permanent endowment for the Vagelos Institute for Energy Science and Technology, launched in 2016 through founding support from the Vageloses to position Penn as one of the premier energy research and technology centers in the nation. In addition, the gift is funding an endowed chair in chemistry and student awards honoring leaders of three undergraduate programs that carry the Vagelos name: the Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management, the Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research (VIPER), and the Vagelos Scholars Program in the Molecular Life Sciences.

“Roy and Diana’s philanthropic support has been expanding Penn’s horizons in the sciences for more than four decades,” said Penn Interim President J. Larry Jameson. “As a physician-scientist himself, Roy pioneered major advances that have improved human health. Their commitment to this University can be seen across campus and we are deeply committed to their bold vision for what Penn can accomplish, from discoveries in the lab to inspiring students in the classroom. The legacy of their partnership will have an enduring impact on generations to come.”

The gift’s substantial support for graduate education is consistent with a key priority for the School and recognizes the critical importance of training scientists of the future. Steven J. Fluharty, Dean and Thomas S. Gates, Jr. Professor of Psychology, Pharmacology, and Neuroscience, said, “Supporting talented graduate students and bringing them together with the best faculty is the most promising path to breakthrough discoveries addressing not only the challenges that are facing us today, but ones that we have not yet imagined. This monumental new gift caps off the incomparable impact that Roy and Diana have had on scientific research and education at Penn Arts & Sciences. From supporting and recruiting exceptional chemists to educating future experts in top-notch research facilities and interdisciplinary undergraduate programs, we will continue to make great strides thanks to the partnership and incredible generosity of Roy and Diana.”

Dean Fluharty also noted the crucial role of the Vagelos Institute, which engages over 35 faculty from across the University, along with postdoctoral fellows and graduate students. “With the unflagging support of Roy and Diana,” he says, “the School has been able to realize—and surpass—its greatest ambitions within the study of energy, sustainability, and the environment. Their prescience and philanthropy have generated enormous momentum for this crucial component of the School’s strategic plan and catapulted us into a leadership position within the University community.”

“Diana and I have always been great believers in the power of basic science to find solutions to global problems,” said Vagelos. “Whether through enhancing understanding of the natural sciences in order to one day cure neurodegenerative diseases, or tackling the enormous threat that climate change poses to people around the world through energy science, investing in students and faculty mentors is the best way we can think of to enable learning and advance discoveries. We hope that these funds will also help make this work more accessible and increase diversity among faculty and students pursuing these solutions. With its outstanding faculty and interdisciplinary approach, Penn is uniquely well positioned to inspire the scientists of the future and change the world for the better. We are proud to help keep Penn at the forefront of science education and research.”

The Vageloses’ longtime support of Penn Arts & Sciences includes the Vagelos Laboratory for Energy Science and Technology, which will serve as the home to the Vagelos Institute and VIPER. Previous undergraduate science education gifts include the Roy and Diana Vagelos Scholars Program in the Molecular Life Sciences and the Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management. They have additionally generously supported undergraduate scholarships and endowed professorships in the sciences. Their philanthropy has had a transformative and lasting impact on the School’s campus and undergraduate students, fueling and inspiring faculty and student research discoveries in the sciences and energy research.

Roy Vagelos, a chemistry major who graduated from Penn in 1950 before going on to receive a medical degree from Columbia University, is the retired chairman and chief executive officer of Merck & Co. and the retired chairman of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. Vagelos served as chair of the University’s Board of Trustees from 1994 to 1999. He is a former member of the Penn Arts & Sciences’ Board of Advisors and the founding Chair of the Committee for Undergraduate Financial Aid. Diana Vagelos is a former member of the Board of Advisors at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.