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Generosity as Compass

Thomas Massa ’68 provides scholarships for geography students

When Thomas Massa graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 1968, he was one of only eight geography students. The department has since grown to lead the integration of natural, social, and information sciences to understand and solve problems of people and the environment. Tom has made the first bequest commitment to the UC Santa Barbara Department of Geography in its 57-year history, hoping to inspire students to be curious about the world.

“An interest in geography is an important thing to have,” said Tom. “To me, geography is the correlation of everything. If it helps somebody stay on the path to learn about the world, maybe they will make a difference.”

Faculty in the Department of Geography unite aspects of international development, urban and regional planning, climatology, earth and marine sciences, statistics and operations research, and environmental psychology. Knowing where things are, why they got there, and how they work is critical to understanding our world today and how it is changing.

“Tom’s generous gift will support generations of geography students and the myriad impacts they will have on society in their post-graduation careers,” said Dr. Stuart H. Sweeney, chair of the Department of Geography. “Private philanthropy furthers our research and teaching mission and promotes understanding of planet Earth and its inhabitants.”

Tom’s curiosity about the world began with stamp collecting at age eight. Decades later, during his 36-year teaching career, a colleague mentioned that most people couldn’t name four countries in Africa. Tom listed 32 before she stopped him. At one point, he had a stamp from each one at home.

Tom also remains close to nine of his college friends, and the group meets up approximately every three years, traveling from Tennessee, Illinois, and across California to play cards and tell stories. They have celebrated the Department of Geography’s 50th Anniversary and many reunions together. For Tom, who still has “Keep UC Free” bumper stickers from 1966, the life-changing experience of university should be available to anyone, regardless of income.

“I am passionate about affordable education,” said Tom. “Scholarships are just the right thing to do.”