James and Anna Marie Spilker pledge $28 million to Stanford University

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The gift from the GPS pioneer and his wife, a real estate investor, will name The James and Anna Marie Spilker Engineering and Applied Sciences Building in the Science and Engineering Quad and endow a professorship in the School of Engineering.

James J. Spilker Jr., a Stanford School of Engineering alumnus and consulting professor, and his wife, Anna Marie Spilker, a successful real estate broker and investor, have pledged $28 million to Stanford University. The gift will name The James and Anna Marie Spilker Engineering and Applied Sciences Building and endow a professorship in the School of Engineering. The building is one of four new structures in the Science and Engineering Quad.

"The James and Anna Marie Spilker Engineering and Applied Sciences Building will be among the top technical facilities in the nation, if not the world. This shared facility is a focal point of interdisciplinary research at Stanford and key to the future of technology development here," said James Plummer, the John M. Fluke Professor of Electrical Engineering and the Frederick Emmons Terman Dean of the School of Engineering.

The 100,000-squre foot James and Anna Marie Spilker Engineering and Applied Sciences Building houses research at the atomic scale with applications that range from new drugs to novel semiconductors to improved communications networks to water purification.

James and Anna Marie Spilker
Anna Marie and James Spilker. The Engineering and Applied Sciences Building is in the far background. Photo: Steve Castillo

A vision for education

Spilker first laid out his vision for America’s continued leadership in innovation, science and engineering in 2005 as a speaker at the 50th Reunion of his Stanford undergraduate class. He returned to this theme during a recent interview.

“Anna Marie and I believe strongly that America’s ability to compete in the 21st Century—even more so than the 20th—will depend critically on our ability to innovate and excel in science and engineering,” James Spilker said. “Many jobs of the past century are gone. This gift is an effort to ensure that one of America’s great research institutions retains the leadership it has enjoyed for decades.”

James and Anna Marie met nearly 40 years ago at the Stanford running track now known as Cobb Track at Angell Field. Both faced early challenges.

James Spilker was born in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Germantown. “As a high school senior, I was a very small guy with thick glasses. I felt out of place and my family had little means. Other students called me the ‘little professor.’ My mother had to take a bus at five every morning to get to her job as a secretary,” he recalled. “I was certainly not a wealthy guy.”

After attending a community college, however, he entered Stanford for five years on scholarship/fellowship and supported by various Stanford academic jobs. He obtained three Stanford degrees—a BS, MS and PhD, all in electrical engineering.

Anna Marie Spilker was born in a refugee camp in Kempten, West Germany, the daughter of Hungarian émigrés devastated by World War II. Though her parents—who had lost all of their property in the war—were wary of her property investments, Anna Marie went on to a successful career in real estate.

Taking stock of Stanford’s outstanding facilities and faculty, the Spilkers say that today’s students have many exciting opportunities before them. “They have within their grasp the ability to create technologies that can change the world or to found new companies that can employ thousands,” James Spilker said. “Most important, if they truly love what they do, they have the key catalyst for success.”

Paraphrasing former Stanford Provost Condoleezza Rice, the Spilkers cast the challenge of education in terms of civil rights. “We must reduce the gap between rich and poor, now equivalent to the gap between the educated and the non-educated. Stanford provided me a great opportunity, and we want to return that favor,” James Spilker said.

Mutual success

Prior to joining the Stanford faculty in 2001 as consulting professor of electrical engineering and aeronautical/astronautical engineering, James Spilker was co-founder, CEO and chairman of Stanford Telecommunications, a company he helped build from three to more than 1,300 employees without aid of venture capital funding.

The company was known for its egalitarian management style and corporate structure. The title on Spilker’s office door read, simply, “Coach.” Stanford Telecommunications specialized in digital communications and application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) design. William J. Perry, a former Stanford professor of management science and engineering, was Spilker's mentor during much of that time.

In 1999, a consortium of Intel, Alcatel, Flextronics and ITT Industries purchased Stanford Telecommunications. In 2005, James Spilker co-founded a company called AOSense, in Sunnyvale, Calif., with Brent Young and Mark Kasevich, a Stanford professor of physics and of applied physics. AOSense designs and builds gravity and inertial sensors.

Earlier in his career, James Spilker was a central figure in the development of the Global Positioning System (GPS). In the 1960s, he authored and co-authored papers on signal timing technology that made possible the precision tracking of satellites necessary for GPS.

In the 1970s, working for then-Col. Bradford Parkinson—the driving force behind GPS at the Pentagon and eventually a Stanford professor of aeronautics and astronautics—Spilker contributed to the original GPS architecture and analyses and design of the GPS civil signal structure that now serves almost two billion users. In 2005, he co-founded the Stanford University Center for Position, Navigation and Time, continuing to work on satellite navigation.

Anna Marie Spilker received her BA in economics in 1968 at the University of California at Santa Cruz and her MBA from California State University, East Bay in 1977. She is a licensed real estate broker, and the founder and president of New Pacific Investments Inc. She has been a highly successful real estate investor and manager in Silicon Valley.

James Spilker has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering, the Air Force GPS Hall of Fame and the Silicon Valley Engineering Hall of Fame, as well as a Life Fellow of the IEEE and a Fellow of the Institute of Navigation. As one of the originators of GPS, James shared in the Goddard Memorial Trophy.

He is author of Digital Communications by Satellite, published by Prentice Hall and in its ninth printing, and co-author and co-editor with Bradford Parkinson of the two-volume Global Positioning System (GPS)—Theory and Application, published by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). That book won the Summerfield Book Award presented by the AIAA.

Enthusiasm for technology

“In the end, much comes down to enthusiasm. Anna Marie and I enthusiastically support engineering innovation and education, and we hope that students and faculty of Stanford University will be equally enthusiastic about the opportunities made possible by this gift,” said James Spilker.

"The Spilker building unites state-of-the-art research technology and cutting-edge laboratory and teaching facilities. The faculty and students for decades to come will use this facility to drive technology innovation that will change the world. We owe a sincere debt of gratitude to the Spilkers for making this possible,” concluded Dean Plummer.

Andrew Myers is associate director of communications for the Stanford University School of Engineering.

Last modified Wed, 31 Oct, 2012 at 22:37