A Better Place

USD donors John and Rafaella Belanich


As John Belanich announced a $10 million gift to the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, he held up a slide rule. The calculation tool, virtually unknown to today’s students, shows how far engineering has come — and how far it can go in the digital age — to create a more innovative, prosperous and sustainable world.

“I show this to you because maybe it will be a in a museum someday,” said Belanich, a successful engineer and real estate developer. At a campus ceremony in April 2018, he told the audience of friends and members of the USD community that he and his wife, Raffaella ’61 (BA), ’77 (MA) — pictured, above — are happy and proud to be part of the school that will help discover and invent new products and services for a better world. “The best is yet to come!” he exclaimed.

The transformative gift will allow the school to complete extensive renovations in Loma and Guadalupe Halls and an intermediate annex building, adding state-of-the-art classrooms, labs, and student innovation spaces. Upon completion, the integrated facility will be named the Belanich Engineering Center.

“This amazing gift will give us space where our students can practice being the Changemakers that will change the world,” added a jubilant Dean Chell Roberts.

“Our students need spaces that allow for creating, designing, trying new things, proto-typing and ultimately learning how to use their skills to make the world a better place. This is a gift that transforms the future of many engineering lives. We’re inventing the future; that’s really what this is about.”

The expansive, 74,500-square-foot complex also will include space to develop bioengineering and sustainability engineering programs, along with a new cybersecurity innovation space, conference rooms, and faculty and administration offices.

Established as a school only five years ago, the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering is already ranked 12th in the nation for non-doctoral-granting engineering programs by U.S. News & World Report, noted USD President James T. Harris.

“The school’s graduates do not fit the stereotype of what many people imagine when they think about engineers,” Harris added. Nearly one-third of them are women, almost double the national average, and all graduates earn a dual BS/BA degree, giving them impressive writing and speaking skills and making them “strong critical thinkers with global awareness who are receptive to diverse cultures.”

At the ceremony celebrating one of the largest, most impactful gifts in the university’s history, Harris also recognized the Belanichs’ longstanding commitment to USD.

“Their generosity also is reflected in the naming of the Bishop Buddy Sala in Mother Rosalie Hill Hall and the Bishop Buddy Endowed Scholarship, which has greatly benefited many deserving USD students,” Harris said.

“John is a very successful engineer and Raffaella is a very successful USD alumna, who traces her experiences back to our founder; Raffaella actually worked with Bishop Buddy. I want to express my deep appreciation to John and Raffaella for their truly inspirational gift and their leadership, foresight and generosity in providing such an amazing gift to USD at this precise moment in our growth and development. We celebrate the lives of them both, and we’d like future students to think about the people who’ve made those gifts and the impact they’ve had on our university.”

Dean Roberts seconded that emotion. “This is just the beginning,” he said. “We have so much more we can do. Come join the team and help us create the future!” — Liz Harman


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