USC Marshall lands $5M for new blockchain initiative

BY Sydney LakeFebruary 10, 2022, 3:01 PM
Philanthropist Cynthia van Eck speaks at the Boys’ Club of New York’s 2020 Winter Luncheon in February.
Philanthropist Cynthia van Eck speaks at the Boys’ Club of New York’s 2020 Winter Luncheon in February.
Photo by Sean Zanni—Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

As the cryptocurrency craze carries on, business schools are adding and adapting their curriculums, making investments in, and creating new opportunities for MBA students to become familiar with the digital economy. In fact, investment firm Van Eck Associates in early February made a $5 million gift to the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business to establish a cryptocurrency- and blockchain-focused initiative, which will include new curriculums, research opportunities, and events.

The donation made by Cynthia van Eck, a USC Marshall undergraduate alum, and her husband, Jan, will give students the chance to learn about Bitcoin, blockchain (the technology that powers cryptocurrencies), and NFTs—or non-fungible tokens. Cynthia van Eck, through her company Van Eck Associates, has made other donations to the school, and Jan serves on the USC Marshall Board of CouncilorsFortune ranks USC Marshall as having the No. 4 online MBA program in the U.S.

The VanEck Digital Assets Initiative will allow USC Marshall to develop courses focused on cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and other digital assets. Both undergraduate and graduate students will be able to enroll in those courses, though further details are forthcoming.

“While we are still working on the details of new courses and specific research under the VanEck Digital Assets Initiative, there is no question that blockchain and its wide-ranging business applications are already on the minds of our students,” Geoff Garrett, dean of the USC Marshall School of Business, tells Fortune. “The VanEck Initiative enables us to dedicate more resources to these topics to the benefit of students looking to launch careers focused on making real-world impact fueled by these technologies.”

What other business schools are doing

Other MBA programs, including those at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, have recently received donations related to cryptocurrency. 

A $5 million grant to Wharton’s Stevens Center for Innovation in Finance will provide funding for faculty, research, events, and student activities related to digital finance. The donation was even made in Bitcoin, which is a new trend in philanthropy, Alex Wilson, cofounder of the Giving Block, a company that facilitates cryptocurrency donations to approximately 300 nonprofits and universities, previously told Fortune.

Most MBA programs at this point, though, offer only a handful of classes related to cryptocurrency and the blockchain—in fact, many students who are interested in these topics have to take additional courses outside business school, according to Fortune research.

Bettering the blockchain

The gift to USC Marshall will also go toward expanding the school’s Building the Blockchain Future event, which launched in 2021. The event featured cryptocurrency leaders such as Cathie Wood of ARK Invest, Anatoly Yakovenko of Solana, and Richard Rosenblatt of Autograph as speakers. In 2022, the event will be known as the VanEck Business of Blockchain Conference. Further details haven’t yet been released. 

The initiative will create opportunities for blockchain research and industry partnerships, and supply funding for additional teachers and industry leaders to join the school. 

“The VanEck Digital Assets Initiative at Marshall specifically helps our students develop a strong foundation in areas that are rapidly emerging, such as blockchain and cryptocurrency, and helps them understand the transformative influence of other technological innovations on finance and commerce,” USC President Carol L. Folt said in a statement. “We’re so grateful for the foresight that drives this gift.”

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