Robert F. Smith on Education and the UNCF Partner Initiatives


Having a quality education is vastly important in today’s society, as it can influence the trajectory on an individual’s life. Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, Robert F. Smith, is no stranger to this concept. Smith grew up in Denver, Colorado, where he attended Denver Public Schools. He graduated from East High School and went on to attend Cornell University. From Cornell, he received a chemical engineering degree and later went on to earn his MBA from Columbia Business School, graduating with honors. Thanks to his exceptional educational background, Smith has been able to pursue his ambitions, even starting his own investment firm. Now, through his philanthropic pursuits, Smith works to provide quality educational opportunities to students across the country. To achieve that end, Smith has partnered with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) to make dreams come true for underrepresented and minority groups across the country through sponsored scholarship programs and initiatives.  

Fund II Foundation UNCF STEM Scholars Program

Smith took his first steps toward helping students by initiating the Fund II Foundation UNCF STEM Scholars Program. The Fund II Foundation, of which Smith is the founding director and President, provided a $48 million grant to the UNCF to help African American high school students receive the necessary education to pursue careers in the STEM fields. Over the course of five years, 500 students will receive over $25,000 in scholarships, internships, mentorship programs and other tools to help them reach their goals. To date, the program has helped students in over 29 states, with the cohorts attending over 70 elite colleges and universities, including some ivy league schools.

UNCF Sylvia M. Young Smith Scholarship Program

The Fund II Foundation UNCF STEM Scholars Program was not the only UNCF scholarship initiative that Smith had a hand in in 2016. In honor of his mother who sent a $25 check to the UNCF every month throughout Smith’s childhood, Smith and his brother Allan created the UNCF Sylvia M. Young Smith Scholarship Program. This program awards six merit-based scholarships valued at $100,000 each to African American senior high school students in Washington, DC, and Denver, CO, who are set to attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).  

Student Freedom Initiative

In 2020, Smith continued his partnership with the UNCF by launching the Student Freedom Initiative (SFI) together with Fund II Foundation, Skip Gates and the Jain Family Institute. With a $50 million grant from Fund II Foundation, the SFI looks to address the crushing loan debt that many African American college students face after graduation. The nonprofit initiative offers juniors and seniors in STEM majors at HBCUs a flexible, lower-risk alternative to high-interest private student loans. In all, SFI aims to help around 5,000 students who otherwise may have not have continued with their education or pursued certain careers because of college debt.

Learn more about the Fund II Foundation and the UNCF and how they are helping Robert F. Smith improve educational opportunities for underrepresented and minority groups.