Rocco and Catherine Commisso Create Transformative Scholarship Opportunities for Columbia Engineering Students

Jun 08, 2022 363

Rocco B. Commisso (’71SEAS, ’75BUS), the founder, chairman, and CEO of Mediacom Communications and president of Florence, Italy based football club ACF Fiorentina, and his wife Catherine Commisso have generously donated one of the largest gifts to date designated for undergraduate scholarship support to the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science.

This endowed financial aid program boosts the Columbia Student Support Initiative announced by President Bollinger in April 2021, a University-wide campaign focused on raising $1.4 billion in financial assistance for students by June 2025.

The Rocco and Catherine Commisso Scholarship is designed to annually benefit a cohort of up to 20 students in perpetuity. The cause of education is particularly important to Mr. Commisso, who grew up in the Bronx after immigrating with his family from Calabria, Italy at age 12. He attended Columbia on an undergraduate scholarship and, while studying industrial engineering, was a soccer standout for the Lions. Mr. Commisso was a member of the 1967 Columbia freshman men's team that finished undefeated and co-captain of the 1970 varsity men's squad, the first Columbia soccer team to compete in the NCAA men's soccer tournament. He would later return to Columbia to obtain an MBA from the business school. Columbia Engineering is also the alma mater of Mr. and Mrs. Commisso’s son, Joseph Commisso (’06SEAS), who followed his father’s footsteps to the engineering school.

“The time I spent at Columbia was a truly life-changing experience for me,” said Mr. Commisso. “On the field, I was able to help bring a winning culture to the Lions’ soccer program. In the classroom, I was given the opportunity to earn a first-class engineering education that opened the doors to my future business career. However, without the financial support I received from Columbia, my ability to pursue an Ivy League education at one of the world’s finest universities would not have been possible. With this gift, Catherine and I hope to help students facing similar economic challenges realize their dream of graduating from Columbia. Ultimately, we want to ensure that the very best students, no matter their family’s circumstances, are able to attain a Columbia Engineering degree.”

The Commisso Scholars’ program was inspired by Mr. Commisso’s own journey from Italy to the Bronx where he attended Mount Saint Michael Academy before matriculating to Columbia on a full scholarship. To be eligible, students will need to meet one of the following requirements: to have lived or studied in Italy for at least a year; to be proficient in Italian or have grown up speaking Italian in the home; to have demonstrated leadership or involvement in the Italian community or in Italian cultural activities; to be a member of Columbia University’s men’s or women’s soccer team; or to be from the Bronx, with a preference for alumni of Mount Saint Michael Academy.

Upon graduating from the engineering school in 1971, Mr. Commisso began his business career at Pfizer. After earning his MBA from Columbia Business School in 1975, he spent a decade on Wall Street with Chase Manhattan Bank and the Royal Bank of Canada. He worked at Cablevision Industries from 1986 to 1995 where he served as executive vice president, CFO, and director. Mr. Commisso went on to become the chairman and CEO of Mediacom, a company he founded in 1995 to acquire and reinvigorate cable systems in America’s underserved smaller communities. Today, Mediacom is the nation’s fifth largest cable provider and was recently recognized by Deloitte Private and the Wall Street Journal as a U.S. Best Managed Company for the second year in a row. The company also seeks to help close the digital divide by offering affordable broadband plans to low-income families.

“We truly appreciate the enormous generosity that Rocco has shown to our engineering students, and for his support over the years,” said Shih-Fu Chang, Dean of Columbia Engineering. “Making a Columbia education possible for deserving students, regardless of need, is a central value of our University and we are grateful for alumni like Rocco who continue to inspire all of us and give back in ways that will be truly transformational for our students.”

“Working with Rocco has been a true privilege,” said Columbia University Provost Mary C. Boyce. “His approach to leadership, philanthropy, and business epitomizes an engineering mindset, as well as a kind and generous spirit. His support will directly impact students while also enhancing the diversity that is a strength of our University.”

“This Commisso Scholars program comes at a time when support for students is more critical than ever,” said Columbia University President Lee Bollinger. “We greatly appreciate Rocco and Catherine’s gift and the deep care for students that drives their generosity.”

Mr. Commisso has been a longtime supporter of Columbia University, Columbia Engineering, and the Lions soccer program. More recently, he was Class Day speaker for Columbia Engineering graduates in 2021 and gave the annual Magill Lecture in 2020. He was also inducted into the Columbia University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2016 and is the namesake of the Rocco B. Commisso Soccer Stadium. At a ceremony on June 9, 2022, the Columbia Engineering Alumni Association will be awarding him the Samuel Johnson Medal for Distinguished Achievement in a Field Beyond Engineering and Applied Science in recognition of his entrepreneurial achievements and exceptional leadership. Past Johnson Medal recipients include former head of Xerox Ursula Burns ('82SEAS) and Nobel Prize Winner Alvin Roth (’71SEAS).

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