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Homegrown Support

Mike ’87 and Catherine Byron explain their humble path to philanthropy

“There’s something about our roots that makes us see the world in the same way,” remarks Michael “Mike” Byron ’87, who met his wife, Catherine, in their high school English class. “Since we grew up in the same area and went to the same high school, there are these places and people who made us who we are.”

“We’re both from humble upbringings,” adds Catherine, who graduated from California State University, East Bay. “That really shaped the way we live and how we see the world.”

The Byrons’ humility persists despite their ever-increasing generosity to UC Santa Barbara. Together, their giving bolsters the Division of Social Sciences and the Department of Economics, where Mike serves as a board advisor.

“They’re lovely people,” said Kelly Bedard, chair of the economics department. “The university would benefit from more folks like them involved.”

The Byrons’ economics funding serves a twofold purpose: to provide scholarship support for students and enhance departmental programming. Students benefit from these offerings, which include a campus speaker series, resume coaching and internships at Big Four accounting firms.

“One of the things that I think is really important for [economics] students is that we create opportunities for experience,” asserted Bedard. “We’ve always tried to have high quality education in classrooms, but it’s also important to have other sources of education — and that relies on outside funding.”

Fortunately for the department, the Byrons believe in experience. Their affinity for UC Santa Barbara beckons their return (they plan to migrate from Northern California to Santa Barbara once their kids are out of high school).

“UC Santa Barbara was, for me, such an amazing experience in my life,” recalled Mike, who majored in business economics. “[Our son] Logan loves Santa Barbara, too, and can’t understand why anybody wouldn’t want to go there,” he laughed.

The couple relishes the journey, and it would seem they’re not alone. The new SAGE Sara Miller McCune Dean of Social Sciences, Charles R. Hale, boasts an impressive history of anthropology adventures. His research and fieldwork in Bolivia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras (to name a few), resembles an “Indiana Jones” movie according to Mike. “We got to really know the dean. He’s super interesting.”

Hale called Mike the real deal. “[He’s] a highly successful executive of NVIDIA,” observed Hale, “yet modest and welcoming to those from outside that world. [He’s] intensely loyal to UC Santa Barbara, and genuinely interested in our success today.”

The Byrons’ generosity continues, as they’ve committed additional funding for 2019. Their gift will fund economics as well as the dean’s Social Sciences Initiative, which enables Hale to enrich teaching, curricular activities and research in the social sciences.

“We are deeply grateful for Mike and Catherine’s extraordinary generosity,” remarked Hale, “and excited to continue putting their gifts to work for the benefit of students, faculty and programs in the economics department and throughout the Division of Social Sciences.”

Happily, Mike and Catherine share in the community’s enthusiasm: “We’re always thinking about how we can help people,” said Mike.

“Indeed,” added Catherine, “I can’t buy for myself unless I help someone else!”