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Ubben family increases Campaign support to $21.6 million

Recent gift to create Ubben Program for Climate and Carbon Science
Two people, a man and a woman, pose for a picture.
Jeff Ubben, ’87 MBA, and his wife, Laurie

Northwestern University trustee and alumnus Jeff Ubben ’87 MBA and his wife, Laurie, have made a $5.5 million gift to the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN). Addressing a key University priority, the gift will establish the Ubben Program for Climate and Carbon Science to improve understanding of global climate system dynamics and evaluate low- and zero-carbon alternatives to fossil fuels.

The Ubbens’ latest gift increases their total University support to $21.6 million throughout We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern. 

“Jeff and Laurie are exemplary members of the Northwestern community, and their continued support has advanced programs across the University,” Northwestern President Morton Schapiro said. “Their passion for developing sustainability and energy solutions is inspiring, and we are so grateful for their partnership in this area.”

In its 2011 strategic plan, Northwestern identified energy and sustainability among its areas of greatest strength, in which the University expects to have the most impact. Accordingly, energy and sustainability have been a key focus of the “We Will” Campaign, which seeks to advance the University’s strategic initiatives by raising a total of $3.75 billion in support from 141,000 donors.

In its October 2016 report, the University’s Global Strategy Task Force identified “finite Earth,” which explores the sustainability of the resources supporting the world’s growing population, as one of six interdisciplinary themes of global relevance.

The Ubben Program for Climate and Carbon Science will bring together faculty experts and partners in science, engineering, business, policy, law and communications. These integrated research teams across the University will work to significantly advance the world’s understanding of natural and anthropogenic — or human-caused — climate dynamics and to develop and evaluate new approaches for climate mitigation, including energy solutions that avoid — and even capture and recycle — greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide. This research will provide a better basis from which to inform local and regional decision-making around public policy and investment forecasting that affects critical social systems, including public health and economic development.

“The Ubben Program for Climate and Carbon Science will leverage Northwestern’s strengths in climate science and clean-energy innovation, as well as ISEN’s interdisciplinary approach to addressing global sustainability and energy challenges,” said Michael R. Wasielewski, ISEN’s executive director and the Clare Hamilton Hall Professor of Chemistry in Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “The program will increase our understanding of these critical problems and provide novel solutions to benefit society.”

To understand and ultimately predict the dynamics of climate change, caused by global emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, researchers will look to past warming events as proxies for future impacts and build upon state-of-the-art computational models of the dynamic global climate system.

At the same time, program researchers will develop and characterize new, environmentally benign materials to capture and convert carbon dioxide into energy-dense liquid fuels that can make use of existing distribution infrastructure and create carbon-neutral commercial materials for widespread use.

“The institute is busy at work finding less energy-intensive solutions to societal needs, with an increased sense of urgency,” said Jeff Ubben, CEO, chief investment officer and founder of ValueAct Capital, a San Francisco-based private money management firm.

Prior to founding ValueAct Capital in 2000, Jeff Ubben was a managing partner at Blum Capital Partners for more than five years. He is a director of Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. and Willis Towers Watson PLC.

“There is no higher purpose than the health of and respect for the planet,” Laurie Ubben said.

Laurie Ubben is a co-founder of the Bird School of Music and producer of the film “Loving Vincent.” She serves on the board and national advisory committee of Youth Speaks.

Jeff and Laurie Ubben have been generous benefactors throughout the “We Will” Campaign. Their past gifts have included support for the Kellogg School of Management, Athletics and Recreation, the Bienen School of Music and other areas of the University. Earlier this year, Northwestern announced that the Ubbens — together with Trustee Tim Sullivan and his wife, Sue — committed a total of $3 million to Northwestern Athletics and Recreation to establish the Sullivan-Ubben Head Men’s Basketball Coaching position, held by Chris Collins. The Ubbens are members of NU Loyal, a giving society recognizing consistent annual giving to Northwestern, and the Henry and Emma Rogers Society, which honors Northwestern supporters who have included the University in their estate plans.

A 1987 Kellogg graduate, Jeff Ubben is a charter trustee serving on the Northwestern Board of Trustees’ finance and student life committees. He serves as a member of the steering committees for the “We Will” Campaign and Kellogg’s Transforming Together campaign, and he co-chairs the University’s San Francisco Regional Campaign Committee. He recently completed a 10-year tenure as chair of The Posse Foundation’s national board of directors; in this role, he was instrumental in developing Northwestern’s partnership with the college access and leadership development program.

Jeff and Laurie Ubben have three children: Charlotte, Josephine and Theo. Jeff Ubben’s father, Timothy, also attended Kellogg.

ISEN advances global sustainability and energy solutions through transformational research, interdisciplinary education and public engagement. More information about ISEN is available at

The funds raised through the “We Will” Campaign are helping realize the transformational vision set forth in Northwestern’s strategic plan and solidify the University’s position among the world’s leading research universities. More information on We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern is available at