Gary Jacobs, Class of 79

The Jacobs family name is plastered on buildings and benefits all over San Diego, closely linked to technology and high-class education. It’s no surprise that Gary Jacobs — UCSD alumnus and son of Irwin and Joan Jacobs, after whom UCSD’s engineering school was named — has carried on the Jacob legacy in his own life’s work.

Founder and chair of High Tech High — a network of eight K-12 charter schools based in San Diego — 1979 graduate Gary Jacobs received his Bachelor of Arts in management science.

After graduation, Jacobs worked as a programmer and software engineer at his dad’s companies: Linkabit and Qualcomm. By the time he left behind the not-so-quaint family businesses in 2000, he had earned the title of senior education specialist at Qualcomm and was striving to improve the math and science programs in local public schools. At the time, the business community was beginning to realize that traditional public high schools were not preparing students with the tools they needed to succeed in the 21st century.

As somewhat of a fluke, Jacobs attended an organizational meeting on this issue when a colleague couldn’t make it.

“I got hooked at that meeting, and the rest is history,” he said.

Jacobs went on to found and chair High Tech High, which takes a revolutionary approach to education: All students participate in community service and internships, with the aid of no textbooks nor traditional subject divisions; for instance, a single class consolidates art, biology and multimedia. Classes revolve around hands-on experiments — like, say, using DNA analysis to identify pieces of African bushmeat that are actually endangered species, illegally poached.

It’s an unorthodox but successful formula: Every one of High Tech High’s graduates has been admitted to college.

On top of the countless hours he spends fostering High Tech High, Jacobs works in investments, owns minor-league baseball team Lake Elsinore Storm and stays involved in numerous philanthropic organizations in the San Diego area.

Gary and his wife Jerri-Anne even managed to one-up Mom and Pop Jacobs in 2006, when they donated $1 million to UCSD — the largest single gift ever made by an alumnus.

Despite his success, Jacobs said he still wishes he had established deeper connections with faculty and students at UCSD.

“When one is out in the real world, it is extremely valuable to bounce ideas off of people you trust and have a shared experience with,” Jacobs said.

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