$2.5 million gift creates Software Scholars program at MSU

Leinweber Foundation supports Computer Science and Engineering program

larry leinweber and claudia babiarz

When Larry D. Leinweber was an undergraduate student at Michigan State University in the early 1960s, he held a student job at the then almost-new Kellogg Center. He worked as a waiter in the State Room for 30 hours or more a week, as he had to pay all his college expenses.

His drive helped build a career in an emerging industry that, decades later, is helping him support other Spartans with the grit to succeed through a $2.5 million fund endowment.

At MSU, Leinweber put every penny he earned into his schooling, so he also made sure his summer jobs were interesting and paid well. Hitchhiking to the Pacific Northwest to work as a surveyor and forest firefighter proved worthwhile.   

Growing up on a farm in Osceola County, about an hour south of Traverse City, he set high achievement goals for himself as a student in a rural one-room schoolhouse.

Leinweber graduated with a physical science degree from MSU in 1964 and started his software career as a systems engineer at IBM. The same ambition that fueled him through MSU guided his early career as well. He founded and led Advanced Computer Management Corporation at age 28, and later became president and CEO for a software and service division of Citicorp.

He then founded and served as CEO for New World Systems Corporation in Troy, Michigan, a software company focused on enterprise resource planning applications for city and county governments.

Today, he is president of The Ascent Group, a technology investment firm he cofounded with his son, David Leinweber. Based in Detroit, they focus on early-stage software companies with the goal of building up the software industry in Michigan.

“I’m very interested in supporting the next generation of software entrepreneurs and engineers,” Leinweber explains, “so my interest is a natural fit for encouraging students to pursue an important field that currently has a need.”

His wife, Claudia Babiarz, also attended MSU, graduating in 1971 with a degree in mathematics before going on to earn her law degree at the Detroit College of Law. Leinweber and his family have also launched the Leinweber Foundation, and recently committed $2.5 million to MSU to endow the Leinweber Software Scholars Fund. Undergraduate scholarships will support computer science and engineering students from underserved areas in Michigan, especially more rural counties.

“We are interested in elevating and expanding the software industry in Michigan by training the next generation and building a pipeline of talent for the new economy,” says Jessica Leinweber, executive director of the Leinweber Foundation. “We want to alleviate some of the financial pressure on these students so that they may focus on their education, developing their talents and building up the Michigan economy along the way.”

MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D., expressed gratitude for the generosity and vision of the donors.

“The Leinweber Foundation’s gift will have a significant impact on our ability to prepare students by creating a unique learning community focused on an important industry in Michigan and beyond,” he says. “We are tremendously thankful for gifts like these, which will offer opportunities to a wider range of students, elevate their experience here and enhance MSU’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs.”

MSU Engineering Dean Leo Kempel called the Leinweber Software Scholars a phenomenal gift to MSU and students from the State of Michigan.

“We thank the Leinwebers for their generosity and foresight in providing this gift to our Department of Computer Science and Engineering,” Kempel says. “This extraordinary program provides talented computer science and engineering students from underserved parts of Michigan with an opportunity to impact the state’s software industry.”

The Leinweber Software Scholars endowed fund will provide half-tuition scholarships for five new Spartan students each year, with each student eligible to receive the scholarship for three years. Each cohort of 15 students will be part of the Leinweber Software Scholars Society to sustain and reinforce students through classes, internships, networking opportunities and finally entry into the state’s software industry.

“Larry loves that Michigan State is a land grant university, dedicated to students and citizens of the State of Michigan,” Jessica Leinweber continues. “He knows that in the current landscape it is very difficult to work your way through school, like he did. We believe the Leinweber Software Scholars program will be a helpful vehicle to support students for years to come.”

MSU is the second Michigan university to receive a Leinweber Software Scholars program. Spartan Engineers join the University of Michigan College of Engineering in receiving support from the Leinweber Foundation. Plans are to expand the program to other Michigan colleges and universities in the future.

LEARN MORE about making a gift to the College of Engineering by contacting Senior Director of Development Stephen Bates at batesst@msu.edu or by calling (517) 355-8339.