Diana and Roy Vagelos Record $83.9M Penn Donation Is Earmarked for Science Initiatives

Most of the funds will support graduate education in the university's chemistry department.

Students walk down tree-lined campus
The donation is one of the largest in the university’s history. Jumping Rocks/Universal Images Getty Images

The University of Pennsylvania has received one of the largest donations in its history: $83.9 million from former pharmaceutical executive Roy Vagelos and his wife Diana.

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The commitment is also the largest single gift ever made to its School of Arts & Sciences, which has received a total of $239 million from the couple in recent years. “Whether through enhancing understanding of the natural sciences in order to one day cure neurodegenerative diseases, or tackling the enormous threat that climate change poses to people around the world through energy science, investing in students and faculty mentors is the best way we can think of to enable learning and advance discoveries,” said Vagelos in a statement.

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The bulk of the donation—$50 million—will benefit the school’s chemistry department, which will establish twenty new Vagelos fellows. The gift will also create a permanent endowment for the Vagelos Institute for Energy Science and Technology, which was launched in 2016 with support from the couple.

The Vageloses’ contribution will additionally fund an endowed chair in chemistry and a series of student awards honoring leaders from undergraduate programs in life sciences and management, energy research and molecular life sciences.

Woman in black shirt and man in suit pose seated on chair
Roy and Diana Vagelos have been longtime supporters of STEM education. David DeBalko/Courtesy University of Pennsylvania

Who are Diana and Roy Vagelos?

Roy Vagelos has close ties to the university, having received his undergraduate degree from Penn in 1950 and serving as chair of its board of trustees from 1994 to 1999. He was previously a member of the board of advisors for the School of Arts & Sciences and a founding chair of its committee for undergraduate financial aid. Diana Vagelos, meanwhile, is a former member of the board of advisors for the Penn Museum.

While leading pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. as chief executive officer and chairman in the 80s and 90s, Valegos spearheaded efforts to globally provide ivermectin, a medication that prevents and treats river blindness, at no cost to treatment programs. In 1999, he received the Bower Award for Business Leadership for his efforts in eradicating the disease.

Vagelos, now retired, was also formerly chairman of the board of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company. Over time, he has amassed a net worth of $1.3 billion in 2015, as reported by Bloomberg.

He met Diana, then a student at Barnard College, while completing his medical degree at Columbia University in the 1950s. Much of the couple’s philanthropy has benefited their alma maters, including a $55 million gift to advance Barnard College’s STEM education in 2022—the largest donation in the college’s history.

Meanwhile, the $175 million they gave Columbia University in March of last year helped launch its Vagelos Institute for Biomedical Research Education. The donation followed the couple’s $250 million commitment in 2015 to help tackle student loans at Columbia’s medical college, now known as the Roy and Diana Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

At Penn, their contributions have funded undergraduate scholarships, endowed professorships, STEM-focused programs and science centers. A $50 million gift to the School of Arts & Sciences in 2019, for example, helped fund the construction of a new building focused on energy science research. Their patronage of Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences has “catapulted us into a leadership position within the University community,” said Steven Fluharty, the school’s dean, in a statement. “With the unflagging support of Roy and Diana, the school has been able to realize—and surpass—its greatest ambitions within the study of energy, sustainability, and the environment.”

Diana and Roy Vagelos Record $83.9M Penn Donation Is Earmarked for Science Initiatives