John Price has had an extremely unconventional rise to the top.
He immigrated to the U.S. by way of Panama after his parents fled from Nazi Germany in 1939 to escape the Holocaust. As immigrants, his parents often struggled to make ends meet but they always prioritized Price and his siblings' education.
At age 8, Price brought a small wagon and carried grocery bags for people from the neighborhood food store to make extra money.
Over the years, this determination and work ethic grew, leading Price on a journey that would stretch from the City College of New York out west to Colorado and Salt Lake City where he took advantage of the uranium boom, fell in love with the mountains and enrolled at the University of Utah. He graduated in 1956 with a degree in geological engineering.
After finding immense success in construction and realty development and etching his place as one of the Beehive State's most prominent businessmen, Price served as the U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Mauritius, Republic of Seychelles, and Union of Comoros from 2002 to 2005.
"With hard work, perseverance and good timing, I had a successful business career," Price said Tuesday while fighting back tears. "I truly lived the American dream."
Now, after a laundry list of accomplishments, Price and his family have decided to give back to the university that influenced him.
On Wednesday, the University of Utah announced a historic $50 million gift to the College of Engineering from the John and Marcia Price Family Foundation. The gift is the largest in the college's history and one of the biggest in the university's, according to a release from the U.
$32.5 million of the gift will go toward student scholarships, teaching labs and equipment, educational initiatives and more. The remaining $17.5 million will go toward the construction of a brand new, $190 million John and Marcia Price Computing and Engineering Building on campus. Additionally, the college, as a whole, will don a new name: The University of Utah John and Marcia Price College of Engineering.
"As a couple, John and Marcia are not just community leaders; they are community builders," said Utah Gov. Spencer Cox. "Their lives are a compelling example of service to Utah and the nation."
Price acknowledged that engineering and computing knowledge "at every level" is of utmost importance and that the field is becoming increasingly more reliant on technology advancements.
"The College of Engineering will be left behind in high-tech areas if we're not prepared to meet the challenges of the competitive global arena. Our gift will serve as an investment to educate students at the highest level to meet the market demand for engineers and computer science graduates," Price told a packed crowd in the U.'s engineering building.
He's right about the demand, too — a point echoed by Utah Senate President Stuart Adams.
Adams pointed out that Northrop Grumman was recently awarded several multibillion-dollar contracts, including the Sentinel contract to replace the aging Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile system.
"Hill (Air Force Base) will hire more engineers every year than we produce in the state of Utah of all the universities," Adams said. "Northrop Grumman, right now, (I) asked them last week, 4,000 openings up at Hill. Think of the need that's there for engineers and engineering work in the state of Utah."
According to research conducted by the Kem. C. Gardner Policy Institute, in 2020, Utah's engineering and computer science workforce generated 238,400 full- and part-time jobs, $19.1 billion in earnings, and $25.2 billion in gross domestic product, representing 12%-15% of Utah's $200 billion economy.
Cox also hopped on the train, saying that the state "desperately" needs more engineers.
"Thanks to John and Marcia, we're going to have those engineers," Cox said.
"This generous gift from the John and Marcia Price Family Foundation marks another significant milestone in our commitment to invest in students, research and programs that drive innovation," said U. President Taylor Randall. "This investment in the education of engineering and computer science professionals will have exponential impact as they contribute economic and societal value to the state and the nation. It's a historic day for the U. and we are grateful and inspired by the Prices."