Sonoma State University (SSU), home of the nation's first wine business school, received a $250,000 boost this week from Rodney Strong Vineyards. The winery and the university’s Wine Business Institute announced the donation and the new Rodney Strong Pathways Program, designed to help bring economically disadvantaged students to SSU and improve their education and chances of success.
“We’re committed to Sonoma County with our business, and it is important for both our company and our community to be successful,” Rodney Strong president Carmen Castaldi told Wine Spectator.
SSU is the first institution of higher learning in the U.S. to offer seminars, certificates and degree programs focused on the business of wine, and is the first in the world to offer an executive-level wine business degree.
The Pathways program enhances SSU’s existing Education Opportunity Program, designed to recruit and aid students who are the first in their family to attend college, or those from economically disadvantaged upbringings. The expanded program will help provide co-curricular training in financial literacy, entrepreneurship, career guidance and leadership to all students, not just those studying wine.
The program is expected to impact more than 600 students per year. It will also provide resources to support the completion of the Wine Spectator Learning Center, a new 14,500-square-foot home for the institute, scheduled to be completed in 2017.
Rodney Strong Vineyards is one of Sonoma County’s pioneering wineries, founded in 1959 by Rodney Strong. The Klein family purchased the winery in 1989, which remains family owned, farming 14 estate vineyards throughout the county.
The winery has been involved in philanthropy efforts for Sonoma County for years, including youth literacy programs. Castaldi called the Pathways program “An opportunity to close the loop for the community, taking our efforts to upper education.”
"The Rodney Strong Pathways Program will be a transformational experience for students who are studying at the Wine Spectator Learning Center at Sonoma State University," said William Silver, dean of the School of Business and Economics. "First-generation college students who are participating in the program today will become the future leaders of the wine industry."
Other donors to the Wine Business Institute include Gary Heck, owner of Sonoma's F. Korbel & Bros., who has contributed $1 million toward the program. And the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation has pledged a $3 million gift. That money will go toward construction of the Wine Spectator Learning Center.