Timing Matters: About That $50 Million Gift Cornell Just Scored From an Alumni Couple

Cornell University's Department of Biomedical Engineering recently received a $50 million endowment gift from Peter and Nancy Meinig, along with their daughters and their families. The gift establishes the Nancy E. and Peter C. Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering.

Both Meinig and his wife Nancy attended Cornell, graduating in 1961 and 1962, respectively. Two of the couple's daughters, Anne and Kathryn, have degrees from Cornell as well. As we often say at IP, alumni couples who commit to philanthropy have twice the loyalty. The Meinigs' commitment to Cornell is a total family affair, and this big gift typifies that.

The Meinigs have a long history of giving at Cornell, having endowed the Meinig Family National Scholars Program. Cornell is also the site of the Meinig Family Professorship of Engineering and the Nancy Schlegel Meinig Professorship of Maternal and Child Nutrition. A $25 million gift back in 2007 helped create the Nancy and Peter Meinig Family Investigatorships in the Life Sciences. Additionally, there's a long trail of board memberships and high-level involvement with the school.

But before I say more about that, I'd like to talk for a moment about timing. Cornell University recently received approval from the state of New York to offer an undergraduate major in biomedical engineering, and will begin accepting sophomores into the program this fall. As Marjolein van der Meulen, the James M. and Marsha McCormick Chair of Biomedical Engineering puts it, as the school launches the major in the fall and develops the undergraduate BME program, "[the Meinigs'] gift will provide resources that we previously could only dream about for hiring faculty, recruiting graduate students, and supporting teaching and research excellence."

I've written before about funders and schools syncing up at opportune times. For instance, I wrote about billionaire Denny Sanford stepping in to support technical schools in the Midwest during a time when there's been a shortage of these students, and also these workers.

Related: What's Welding Got to Do With It? A Billionaire Gives Big for Technical Schools

I've also written about several gifts where funders came through at just the right time after a school faced state budget cuts. In the case of Cornell, the state came through, and then so did the Meinigs.

It's worth talking a bit more about just how committed the Meinigs are to Cornell. Meinig has served on the board of trustees at Cornell and is currently chairman emeritus. Nancy, meanwhile, has served as vice president of the Class of 1962 and as vice chair of the major gifts committee for the 40th reunion campaign. Meinig and Nancy are also cochairs of the university’s sesquicentennial committee. Cornell's 150th anniversary, by the way, is this year, and the family is involved in the celebrations across the United States, in London, and Hong Kong. Cornell is also in the midst of a capital campaign, which is nearing the $6 billion mark.


But like I said before, timing matters, and between the greenlight for an undergraduate biomedical engineering major, a capital campaign, and Cornell turning 150, Nancy likely puts it best when she says, “The stars were all aligned for us."

How's $50 million sound for a good birthday gift?