Harnessing the momentum of Humboldt State University’s push to become a polytechnic, alumnus and donor Dan Phillips (‘91, Business and Computer Information Systems) has committed $1 million in scholarships, including a $100,000 challenge for matching gifts, for local high school students who attend HSU.
His goal, he says, is to inspire more students from his hometown in Humboldt County’s rural Eel River Valley to go to college. Phillips hopes that his $100,000 matching fund challenge will inspire other donors to create similar scholarships to support students from Arcata, Eureka, and McKinleyville schools.
The $1 million commitment expands the Dan and Cindy Phillips Fortuna Scholarship, which Phillips and his wife established in 2019 for Fortuna High School graduates attending HSU. Students from all four Eel River Valley high schools (Fortuna, Ferndale, South Fork, and South Trinity) are now eligible for scholarships totalling up to $4,000 each. Recipients may attend as either transfer students from College of the Redwoods or first-time freshmen.
“We are honored that Dan and Cindy Phillips believe in the value of HSU and our ability to provide a life-changing education for local students,” says Frank Whitlatch, HSU’s Vice President for University Advancement and Executive Director of the HSU Foundation. “We hope others will rise to the challenge of this incredibly generous matching gift fund and increase the impact we can make in Humboldt County.”
The matching portion of Phillips’ gift is simple. For every dollar given to create or support a similar scholarship for graduates of high schools on the North Coast, Dan and Cindy Phillips will match these gifts, dollar for dollar, up to $100,000.
“Our goal is to help local students get to college at HSU by lowering the financial barriers that stand in the way,” Phillips says. “Investing in young people is the best way to make an impact on the entire community.”
Raised in rural Bridgeville on Highway 36, Phillips is a graduate of Fortuna High School. He was first exposed to computer science classes at College of the Redwoods, which he took at night while working full-time at a local lumber mill. Inspired by courses that gelled with his skills and interests, Phillips went on to earn a degree in Computer Information Systems and Business from HSU, all while balancing a full-time job and raising his young daughter. “It wasn’t the straight or easy path but I learned from every challenge,” Phillips says.
Phillips has had a long and successful career in the tech industry, most recently serving as Chief Technology Officer at Hulu. “HSU played such a significant role in my career journey. It’s where I connected with incredible professors and students,” Phillips says. “Cultivating those kinds of relationships is so important as you build your career, even as a student.”
One of Phillips’ key mentors was former Computer Information Systems Professor Jim Blaisdell, who gave him the opportunity to work on grant research for NASA Ames while at HSU. The pair went on to start a business together—a move that paved the way for Phillips’ successful career in Silicon Valley.
Like many in the community, Phillips is excited about the “incredible potential of HSU’s designation as California’s third polytechnic university.
“The polytech designation is important,” Phillips says. “It will provide the infrastructure for HSU to become an even more powerful catalyst for students’ career pathways in STEM, not to mention stimulating the North Coast economy.”
Phillips hopes that his donation inspires others to invest in HSU during this pivotal time. With an influx of state funding for polytechnic, HSU will be adding new degree programs to address statewide workforce shortages in engineering, healthcare, and technology. Phillips believes that HSU’s many programs, already highly regarded, can go from good to great as a polytech. At the same time, he says, there is a clear need to provide more financial support to help students access those programs.
“It’s a transformative moment in history for HSU,” says Phillips. “My hope is that this contribution is just the start in making a difference in the lives of young people across Humboldt County.”