Irwin Jacobs

On August 11, 2007, Fra Irwin M. Jacobs, Cornell '56 became the 47th member of Sigma Alpha Mu to receive the Fraternity's Achievement Award. The medal was presented to Fra Jacobs at the Sigma Alpha Mu Foundation banquet at the Arizona Biltmore, the opening event of the two-year ΣΑΜ Centennial celebration. The Achievement Award is presented to members of the Fraternity whose achievements in any sphere of life, except Fraternity activities, are deemed such as to merit recognition by the Fraternity. Fra Jacobs is a world
figure in modern digital communication. He is a founder of Qualcomm where he still serves as Chairman. Dr. and Mrs. Jacobs reside in La Jolla, CA and support numerous community and philanthropic causes.

Fra Jacobs took the time to respond to some questions for this issue of the Centennial Spotlight.

CS: Why did you join the Fraternity and how did you benefit from Fraternity membership?

IMJ: Moving from New Bedford, MA, a fairly small and not-too-sophisticated city, to Cornell was a major change for me. Joining Sigma Alpha Mu allowed me to quickly engage with a large circle of friends and to gain a strong base of support. I started in the Hotel School (my family owned a small restaurant and my high school counselor cautioned us that there was no future in science nor technology) and was able to put my food training to work as Steward, which also allowed me to benefit from some additional food perks. A fraternity brother, Lew Stone, however kept telling me I could not obtain the same grades were I an engineer, and, for this and due to my interest in math and science, I did switch to electrical engineering after three terms. Again, the support from the fraternity was great. Another major event occurred in my sophomore year - a fraternity brother, Peter Cole (who unfortunately just lost a long battle with cancer) arranged a blind date for me with his girl friend's roommate which worked out very well. Both couples were pinned on the same evening at the fraternity house with a great rendition of "My Girl of Sigma Alpha Mu". Joan and I were married shortly after she graduated, almost 53 years ago and she still has my pin.

CS: Why are you so involved in supporting such a range of charitable and community causes?

IMJ: Both Joan and I were brought up to believe that it is very important to support worthwhile organizations with time and money. Luckily, we are now in a position to make quite significant gifts to a variety of causes with particular emphasis on education, community needs, and cultural activities. Since I benefited greatly from scholarships and fellowships while attending Cornell and MIT, we have been pleased to support scholarships and fellowships at Cornell, MIT, UCSD, and Technion as well as two high schools in New Bedford. Our most recent activity has been quite rewarding, an exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls at the San Diego Museum of Natural History which includes materials not only from Israel but also Jordan, Russia, and the U.S.

CS: What do you look for in an organization you are considering supporting?

IMJ: We of course are interested in the mission of the organization but also in the leadership. We always look for activities that are well-led and as a result providing exceptional services.

CS: What message would you give to today’s college students?

IMJ: Be prepared to shape and take advantage of change. The world is continuing on an accelerating course of rapid change, driven by technology, politics, globalization, and the many impacts of a growing population. Obtain a strong basic education in college while you have this great opportunity, allowing you to adapt to new and often unexpected opportunities. As graduates, look for work that you enjoy, and set aside time for continued education, political involvement, philanthropy, and of course family.

<< Back
© 2007 Sigma Alpha Mu Foundation