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Students walking and biking on campus outside the library

The Collective Culture

Gaucho parents Robert and Nicole Keller enhance the campus experience for all students

Robert and Nicole Keller have always prioritized education as a fundamental tool for nurturing children, communities, and the country as a whole. As their two daughters grew, so did the Kellers’ passion for supporting their schools and classmates. At UC Santa Barbara, the Kellers’ flexible philanthropy supports the top priorities of the Division of Student Affairs, with special consideration given to initiatives that focus on student health and wellness, the Disabled Student Program, and programs that build a sense of community and campus pride. 

“We are so grateful for Nicole and Robert,” said Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Margaret Klawunn. “Their leadership has made a difference in the lives of UC Santa Barbara students. From their support during the pandemic to their enthusiasm for campus life, the Kellers are passionate about the health and wellbeing of our community.”

“We have been deliberate in making all our gifts unrestricted because we want Margaret to have the ability to appropriate our charitable intent to the programs that she feels will most benefit the student community. She has a better perspective about opportunities that foster a sense of belonging and ensure that there is a collective component to what students do on campus,” said Robert. 

The Kellers each brought their own collective to UC Santa Barbara. Nicole connected Harvard Business School — where she and Robert met — with UCSB Career Services to recruit more UCSB students to their program.

“I believed that UC Santa Barbara students would thrive in the Harvard Business School classroom, but I didn’t see that there was a formal relationship between the two schools at the time,” said Nicole. “There is no better student than someone with a well-rounded education from UC Santa Barbara.”

Over the past year, Robert has participated in roundtable discussions with groups of 25-30 juniors and seniors in the Department of Economics. He shared advice about his own career journey and about finding success in finance.

“We feel that if we can use not only our philanthropy, but also our professional and personal networks to enable students to have an opportunity to be more than a data point in a firm’s recruiting efforts but to be seen as an individual, that’s worthwhile,” said Robert. “Philanthropy is not just a dollar figure; it’s a set of goals that enable broader outcomes.”

In addition to supporting UCSB Men’s Basketball student-athletes, during the 2019-2020 season, the Kellers collaborated with the athletic department to have t-shirts with $100 Amazon gift cards inside of the shirts tossed into the crowd, as a way to encourage students to attend more games in person. They are so proud of UC Santa Barbara’s presence on the national stage given the Men's Basketball team’s Big West championship last season and their bid to play in the NCAA tournament, as well as UC Santa Barbara’s No. 5 ranking among national public universities. They hope their investments will contribute to further recognition in the years to come.

While they are engaged with campus life, it’s important for Robert and Nicole to keep their involvement separate from the experience of their daughter, a senior.

“It's important that parents who want to contribute to UC Santa Barbara do so because they want to improve the greater good,” said Nicole. “All students will benefit from investments in more programs, more facilities, and more opportunities tailored to their goals. Nowadays, parents are more involved than ever in their children's schools starting at a young age. A lot of parents assume that ends when their kids go to college — but it doesn’t have to end.”

“I would encourage all parents to get involved with UC Santa Barbara,” said Robert. “Having that appreciation for what the school can offer to its students, and to see the smiles on the students' faces as they bike and skateboard and walk on campus, there’s no replacement for it.”