Trying to Make a Better World
With their $60 million commitment, Jim and Miriam Mulva make a strong case for why you should give to UT, too.
By Jamey Smith
“Bill, what can we do to help?” That simple question, posed to President Bill Powers by Distinguished Alumnus Jim Mulva, started a string of conversations that eventually led to the Mulva Family Foundation’s recent $60 million commitment to UT. One of the largest cash pledges made during the Campaign for Texas, now in its final year, the donation reflects Jim and Miriam Mulva’s belief in the university’s vision of excellence in teaching and research.
Jim Mulva is a former chairman and CEO of Houston-based ConocoPhillips, having retired in 2012 after a 40-year career with the company. The Mulvas’ son Jonathan has a business degree from the University of Notre Dame, while son Stephen and his wife, Megan, earned three degrees from the Cockrell School of Engineering between them, as well as one from the McCombs School of Business.
So it was a natural fit when Jim and Miriam decided, with Powers’ input, to direct their gift to the McCombs School and the Cockrell School. As other areas of UT have done in recent years, both McCombs and Cockrell are embarking on significant projects to enhance their teaching and learning environment.
While the university’s capital improvement priorities happen to intersect with the Mulva family’s areas of interest, Jim says their commitment to UT is more overarching.
“There are a lot of good universities in the state of Texas, but it’s good for the whole state to have a great academic institution like the flagship institution of UT,” he says. “It brings jobs, investments, and research, and we need to be supportive. The university needs the support of everyone, and with less funding from the state government, it really needs to be nurtured, supported, and grown by the private sector.”
“We align our giving with our passions, things that are important to us,” says Miriam. “Our young people are our future, and they need to be well educated.”
Expanding and Modernizing
Of the Mulvas’ $60 million gift, $40 million will go to the McCombs School, which is planning to expand and modernize its existing facilities. Phase 1 is the construction of a new building, Rowling Hall, to house and expand graduate and executive education. Phase 2 will involve the renovation of McCombs’ current buildings to yield contemporary, up-to-date facilities for undergraduates and faculty. Those interconnected buildings will collectively be renamed James J. and Miriam B. Mulva Hall.
“These new and upgraded facilities are essential in our efforts to ensure that we maintain our leadership role in business education,” says McCombs Dean Tom Gilligan. The Mulvas’ gift, he says, “will contribute directly to the ever-increasing quality of our students and faculty.”
The remaining $20 million will support Cockrell School initiatives including the construction of the Engineering Education and Research Center (EERC), a new 430,000-square-foot building that is scheduled for completion in 2017. The UT System Board of Regents has committed funding and authorized borrowing for the project, but UT must raise $105 million of the $310 million total cost, and the Mulvas’ gift is crucial to meeting that goal. The couple will be recognized with the naming of the EERC’s James J. and Miriam B. Mulva Conference Center and Auditorium.
“Jim Mulva’s career has exemplified innovation,” says Provost Greg Fenves, who was dean of the Cockrell School until last year. “I’m so pleased that his name and Miriam’s will be seen by thousands of students every week in the premier facility in the U.S. for engineering innovation.”
Funding from the gift will support the EERC construction first, with subsequent support going toward the McCombs project. This will allow the projects to move forward quickly and, once they’re finished, provide yearly resources to sustain them.
From Wisconsin to Bahrain
Ironically for such a devoted Texas Ex, Jim did not choose UT; it was chosen for him. “The Navy told me where to go to school,” says the Wisconsin native.
Shrugging off the culture shock of finding himself in Texas after growing up in Green Bay — where he notes his family are the “original Cheeseheads,” in reference to the esteemed Packer organization — Jim feels that the strong academic curriculum at UT, in combination with ROTC and his service as a dormitory counselor and then supervisor, really honed his leadership skills.
He left Austin in 1969, having earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in finance, and Miriam graduated the same year from Wisconsin’s St. Norbert College with an elementary education degree. They married and began what would be a shared lifelong odyssey, beginning with Jim’s four years in the Navy, much of that time in the Middle East where he recognized the strategic importance of oil and energy.
While stationed in Bahrain, he and Miriam met a fellow naval officer named Bill Powers — years before Powers would join the faculty of UT’s School of Law and decades before he became the university’s president. Their friendship has endured.
“I’ve known Miriam and Jim for more than 45 years,” Powers says. “They have always been able to recognize what needs to get done — and then make it happen.”
‘You get back more than you give’
The Mulvas like to support the community they live in, be it their hometown of Green Bay or the various stops along Jim’s career path, from Bartlesville, Oklahoma, to Houston, with two stints in London along the way.
“Youth and education, the Catholic Church, the elderly, and our local United Way — those are and have always been our primary focus,” Miriam says. She has long been involved with the Boys & Girls Clubs, tutoring disadvantaged children and helping them succeed. She also serves on St. Norbert’s Board of Trustees.
Jim’s involvements include the MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors, which he is on track to chair. The Mulvas donated $5 million to the center to fund melanoma research. They were moved to make the gift after their younger son, Jonathan, a United Airlines pilot, had a brush with the disease.
At UT, their substantial donations include $15 million in 2010 to help build the new Liberal Arts Building, which has an entire floor for ROTC. But it all began with a single gift to McCombs in 1986. Steadfast UT donors since, they encourage everyone to support the things that matter to them, on campus and anywhere else, financially or with their time.
“Give what you can, whatever you’re comfortable with — that’s what’s important,” Jim says. “But give it a go. Find out for yourself whether or not you’ll enjoy the experience of helping.”
“You may find you get back more than you give,” adds Miriam.
Gone (back) to Texas
The Mulvas are outfitting a condominium in downtown Austin and intend to make it their primary home beginning this fall. As they look forward to partaking in the programs and entertainment the campus has to offer, from continuing education to sports and the arts, Jim says their decision to dedicate a substantial portion of their philanthropy to UT over a long period reflects both their lifelong philosophy and their appreciation for where they are today.
“I worked for 40 years at the same company, something I never imagined happening,” Jim says. “If you had told me at the beginning that not only would I stay that long, but that someday I would be CEO … Well, let’s just say we’ve been blessed, and we feel that it is important to give back.”
During his 13 years as ConocoPhillips’ CEO, Jim was in demand as a speaker on college campuses, especially his alma mater, and that’s not likely to change now that he and Miriam will be living nearby. He’s looking forward to interacting with faculty and students, be they Naval ROTC midshipmen, young inventors, or aspiring heads of corporations.
“I’m very proud to be an alumnus of The University of Texas, and it’s great to be involved in what’s going on at the university, where so many exciting things are happening, from the medical school on down. It’s hard not to support it, if you can. You’re helping an organization that’s trying to make a better world.”
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