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Education as Equalizer

Carla Van Hoven Riley ’96 and her family help UC Santa Barbara create generational change

The daughter of Filipino immigrants, Carla Van Hoven Riley ’96 arrived on campus as a transfer student in search of financial security. In honor of the path she found at UC Santa Barbara, Carla and her husband, Christopher, are proud to support scholarships for students in STEM and economics. The family intends to continue that support in perpetuity through a bequest in their estate plans.

“I want to help people like me pursue the American dream,” said Carla. “If a student works hard and gets into a good school, being able to reduce their financial burden so that they can focus on their studies is something that is important to me and my husband. We both feel very passionate about education in business and STEM because we truly feel that those disciplines offer great prospects for employment.”

For Carla, college meant a career. She found a network of equally driven peers at UC Santa Barbara. The Department of Economics has strong relationships with Big Four accounting firms, which helped Carla to secure a job at KPMG, a multinational professional services network, prior to graduation.

“Many other UCSB alumni joined me at KPMG,” said Carla. “That gave me a sense of community within the alumni network.”

Carla worked at KPMG for four years. Because UC Santa Barbara had shown her the power of a good education, she decided to pursue graduate school at Northwestern University, where she met Christopher.

“We really try our best to model for our kids the idea of giving back through volunteer work and making charitable gifts,” said Carla. “We have been open about our long-term financial planning, taking care to ensure that our children understand that it goes beyond just taking care of ourselves. Our hope is that the kids will follow our lead and do something similar when they eventually graduate from college.”

The Rileys began their philanthropy with annual giving to the university. They felt a strong connection with the low-income, first-generation students in The Promise Scholars Program, which guarantees recipients full funding and wraparound services for their college career.

“We had a pandemic Zoom call with a Promise Scholar who inspired me. I knew that if we could do more for students, it could even the playing field,” said Carla.

The Rileys help provide community-building events for students like Maxwell Baruetta ’25, who calls the Promise Scholars program a guiding light. Max serves on the Promise Scholars Advisory Board to plan engagement activities for his peers.

“This is one of the greatest aspects of the Promise Scholars program,” said Max. “In total, there are only 500 Promise Scholars in this huge campus. A hundred students attended our finals week event called Study Jam. The fact that they were all Promise Scholars was mind-blowing to me, and I loved to see everyone come together. It’s amazing that the Riley family is helping to provide this resource for first-generation, low-income students who have doubts and questions about belonging.”

Being able to see their impact firsthand moved the Rileys to do more.

“Because we feel such a passion for education and we see the greatness that UC Santa Barbara achieves, we decided to create a legacy commitment with the hope that we can have a multigenerational impact beyond our annual giving,” said Carla.

“Through this gift, Carla and Christopher will provide scholarship funding for the next generation of students at UC Santa Barbara, and it will help to attract and support more women in economics. The Department of Economics is enormously proud of Carla’s success in the business world and deeply grateful to her for donating both time and money to our students,” said Erik Eyster, department chair.