A recent $8 million bequest to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will provide critical resources to the College of Arts & Sciences and UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.
The unrestricted gift from Stephen M. “Steve” Cumbie ’70, ’73 (MBA), CEO and principal of NVCommercial Incorporated, NVRetail and Metro Realty Group, will allow leadership to seize emerging opportunities as they continue to fulfill their ambitious teaching, research and public service missions.
A longtime supporter of his alma mater, Cumbie has provided invaluable, substantial support to the University over the years. His latest gift counts toward the University’s most ambitious fundraising campaign in history, For All Kind: the Campaign for Carolina, launched in October 2017. As of June 1, the University has raised $3.25 billion, 76% of its goal to reach $4.25 billion by December 2022.
“Steve Cumbie’s bequest builds on his legacy of philanthropy at Carolina and shows his commitment to our University’s critical mission,” said Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. “Providing our leaders with unrestricted funding allows them to flexibly respond to emerging priorities, making our University better equipped for whatever the future may hold. Steve’s investment makes this possible, and we are grateful for his support.”
Cumbie and his wife, Druscilla French, ’71, ’78 (M.A.), have made significant contributions spanning multiple areas of the University. Their support of the College of Arts & Sciences includes the Arts and Sciences Fund, the Center for the Study of the American South, and the physical science complex. They also established the Druscilla French Graduate Student Excellence Fund, which supports multiple graduate students from various disciplines at the College each year, and the Druscilla French Distinguished Professorship in Women’s Studies. In 2013, Cumbie and French founded the Stephen M. Cumbie MBA Fellowship for Real Estate Students to help advance UNC Kenan-Flagler’s real estate MBA program by providing a “full-ride” fellowship to highly qualified prospective students.
“I am eternally grateful for my time at Carolina, when I found the direction and preparation to go out, work hard and have a great career in real estate,” said Cumbie. “I will do whatever I can to further its mission and success.”
Cumbie earned his bachelor’s degree with a double major in chemistry and psychology from the College of Arts & Sciences, where he was a dedicated member of the Arts and Sciences Foundation from 2006 to 2012. He designated $5 million from his bequest to establish a Dean’s Excellence Fund at the College.
“The beauty of this generous gift is that it will allow my successors to act quickly and nimbly in response to immediate priorities,” said Terry Rhodes ’78, dean of the College. “A gift with this type of discretion is incredibly helpful and truly creates the margin of excellence for which the College is known, especially during uncertain financial times. I am grateful for Steve Cumbie’s thoughtfulness and foresight.”
With an eye toward the future, this gift could support innovations in the College’s undergraduate curriculum or enhance high-impact interdisciplinary research endeavors that apply theoretical knowledge to solve real-world problems — such as unmet energy needs, economic disparities, urban sprawl or religious intolerance. It could also provide more undergraduate students with global experiences or help recruit eminent professors who are sought after by the world’s top-ranked universities — further distinguishing Carolina as a global leader in teaching, learning and discovery.
Cumbie’s $3 million bequest to UNC Kenan-Flagler will also be directed to the dean’s discretionary funding, which could support fellowships and scholarships for students, curriculum innovation and faculty retention.
Cumbie enrolled in the MBA program at UNC Kenan-Flagler just one year after he completed his undergraduate degree at Carolina. He credits UNC Kenan-Flagler for leading him to the career for which he was suited.
“When I came to Kenan-Flagler, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my career,” shared Cumbie. “I realized I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I didn’t know how to get there. The business school gave me the background to understand business and the direct contact to my first job at a real estate development company.”
Today, Cumbie’s companies are engaged in commercial real estate investment, development and services and have projects of more than $500 million in the Washington, D.C., and Denver metro areas.
Cumbie brought this real-world business application into the classroom at UNC Kenan-Flagler through his service as executive director of the Leonard W. Wood Center for Real Estate Studies and as a co-teacher of the real estate program’s development process class. He also oversaw the school’s student-managed equity fund, which provides hands-on learning experience in selecting and managing investments and returns. He currently serves on the board of directors of the UNC Kenan-Flagler Private Equity Fund and the Kenan-Flagler Business School Foundation Board. Cumbie received the Business School Leadership Award for exceptional achievement in a career field, personal endeavor or service to UNC Kenan-Flagler in 2017.
“Steve Cumbie is a true leader — as a real estate professional and as a philanthropist supporting higher education,” said Doug Shackelford ’80, dean and Meade H. Willis Distinguished Professor of Taxation at UNC Kenan-Flagler. “His tremendous vision for and deep commitment to making Carolina even better, now and for future generations, are remarkable. He’s also an incredibly nice person who embodies what is special about UNC Kenan-Flagler. We are proud of his success and grateful that he continues to help us develop the next generation of industry leaders by sharing his time, expertise and gifts.”
“A gift to the Dean’s Excellence Fund and the Dean’s Discretionary Fund is a way to support the leadership of the College and UNC Kenan-Flagler, knowing that it gives Terry Rhodes, Doug Shackelford and their successors the ability to address their most important priorities and greatest needs,” said Cumbie.