Aggie sweethearts give $1M to university 50+ years after meeting on campus
In their most significant gift to UC Davis, alumni donors Charles and Nancy Cooper have pledged $1 million to support undergraduate student research opportunities within the College of Biological Sciences, or CBS.
“The gift is really a ‘thank you’ to the place and the people who helped us along the way, both personally and professionally,” said Charles “Chuck” Cooper. “I came to UC Davis with dreams of being a doctor, and I left with my family and my career. I feel like I owe Davis a lot.”
Graduates of the class of 1976 who met and married while students, the Coopers said they are committed to nurturing the same environment of growth and learning that defined their experiences, ensuring a lasting impact for generations to come.
The $1 million endowment will establish the Charles and Nancy Cooper Experiential Learning Fund, to be used at the dean’s discretion, to create new opportunities for students to engage in research in a laboratory or in the field.
Chuck, who joined the UC Davis Foundation board in July, said he and Nancy were inspired to give to CBS, in part, because of their trust in Dean Mark Winey to thoughtfully use the funds to create the best experiential learning opportunities for students.
“One of the college’s core strengths is the breadth of hands-on, experiential learning opportunities we provide our students,” Winey said. “The Coopers’ gift will directly support these opportunities and have a tremendous impact. I am deeply grateful to Chuck and Nancy for their trust and generosity, which will help CBS students now and for generations to come.”
The decision to support student research ties back to Chuck’s time studying genetics at UC Davis, where he spent a summer conducting research – a unique opportunity for an undergraduate student. That experience, he said, enhanced his time at the university and deepened his interest in medicine.
Chuck and Nancy share a special connection to UC Davis – it’s the place where they met and fell in love more than 50 years ago. The couple were introduced during their first year, in the fall of 1972. Two years later, they married and honeymooned in San Diego over winter break.
After graduation, the newlyweds backpacked through Europe before moving to Southern California so Chuck could attend medical school at UC Irvine. The couple eventually settled in Thousand Oaks, where they raised a family, and he ran a successful ophthalmology practice for more than 30 years.
Living some 400 miles away didn’t stop the couple from coming back to Davis nearly every year to attend Picnic Day.
“Come hell or high water, we made it to Picnic Day,” said Nancy. “We always found a way. Some years it was just pouring rain, but it was such a special tradition for our family.”
In 2016, the Coopers moved back to Northern California to be closer to their children and grandchildren, allowing them to re-engage with the university and the Davis community.
Chuck became a volunteer clinical faculty member at the UC Davis Eye Center. Once that role ended, he joined CBS’ Campaign Leadership Council in 2020 and looks forward to serving as a new trustee on the UC Davis Foundation board.
Nancy, who majored in English, currently serves on the Board of Directors for Hillel House, an organization created in 1965 to provide a home away from home for Jewish college students. Today it serves thousands of students throughout the Davis and Sacramento areas.
Inspiring a legacy of giving
For the past few years, Chuck and Nancy have funded a CBS undergraduate research award, which similarly supports hands-on learning opportunities for students.
“We have really enjoyed hearing from the award recipients and learning about the research they were able to do with the funds,” Chuck said. “Seeing the impact for students is very rewarding. We are excited to provide more learning opportunities for years to come.”
The Coopers, who split their time between Davis and San Francisco, still enjoy some of the same activities they did as undergraduate students, like walking through the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden to enjoy the beautiful grounds and expansive botanical collection.
“The feel of the place hasn’t changed at all,” said Chuck. “It’s bigger and there are more people around, but when you’re on the campus, it just feels the same as it did in 1972. It’s been so nice to feel the same things we felt so many years ago.”
In fact, last year they celebrated the 50th anniversary of the day they met with longtime friends and family in an intimate gathering at the Arboretum, where the couple have a named bench that commemorates their love.
“We hope someday that people who benefit from our gifts will feel the same way and thank us by giving back and doing that for someone else down the road,” Chuck said.
Over the years, the Coopers have also supported the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, the School of Veterinary Medicine and the UC Davis Annual Fund.
Their recent gift supports UC Davis’ comprehensive fundraising campaign, Expect Greater: From UC Davis, For the World, the largest philanthropic endeavor in university history. Together, donors and UC Davis are advancing work to prepare future leaders, sustain healthier communities and bring innovative solutions to today's most urgent challenges.