If you think some dreams are too big to be realized, you need to meet philanthropist and business innovator Ron Simon.
“There’s no such word as can’t,” Simon says with smile. “Don’t even come to me with that. Let’s figure out how to do it.”
Indeed, the Chapman University trustee and Horatio Alger Award recipient built not one, but two enormously successful companies. His dedication to education led him and his wife Sandi to establish the Simon Foundation for Education and Housing as a means of providing housing to low-income communities and scholarships to deserving students.
When they realized there was even more of a need, they reshaped the program to nurture promising high school students who would have otherwise been unlikely to aim for college, much less qualify for a scholarship. Since then, more than 1,100 Southern California students have enrolled in four-year colleges and universities, with the help of the Simon Foundation.
Such determination is all part of the Simon way and one of the reasons Ron and Sandi Simon will be honored by the University with the Citizens of the Year Award, to be presented at Chapman Celebrates Gala Night, Saturday, Nov. 2.
Their philanthropy also extends to projects that serve the growing health care needs of Orange County. Among their causes is Hoag Hospital, where they provided for The Ron & Sandi Simon Executive Medical Director Endowed Chair at Hoag Neurosciences Institute.
Most recently, they’ve helped change the lives of several Orange County students. The Simon STEM Scholars Program launched in 2015 as a partnership between Chapman and high schools in Orange and Santa Ana. The Program offers select students who plan to major in a STEM discipline – science, technology, engineering or math – unique mentorship to prepare them for admission to Chapman, as well as a full scholarship.
Like other Simon Scholar programs, the support begins in students’ junior year of high school. Leadership development, life skills training and intensive college prep advising are all part of the package. For Simon STEM Scholars, the foundation supports additional mentoring and research opportunities with Chapman faculty.
Such early and robust nurturing of future scientists is profound, says Jim Doti, president emeritus of Chapman and a longtime friend of the Simons.
“The Simons have been visionary in the way they’ve given. They not only made that program possible, but also how we would prepare these students,” Doti said.
Simon credits his daughter, psychologist Kathy Simon Abels, Ph.D., president of the Simon Foundation. She recognized that many students needed not just scholarships, but encouragement and guidance in high school if they were going to succeed in college.
“We really wanted to give them an experience that would get them through life and get them through college,” Abels says. “With the skills we’re giving our scholars, they’re equipped. They get there and they’re ready.”
Simon looks forward to seeing the contributions they make in their fields, as well as their communities. After all, there just might be a future hospital medical director, Nobel Laureate or philanthropist among them.
Says Simon, “That would be beautiful.”