April 25, 2016

Can a Gift to Caltech Help People Make Better Choices?

Caltech trustee A. Michael Lipper and his wife, Ruth C. Lipper, have pledged $1 million to Caltech to establish two endowments supporting research and education in neuroeconomics, which explores how we make economic decisions.

The Lippers were introduced to Caltech after one of Ruth Lipper’s friends married Caltech trustee Philip M. Neches (BS ’73, MS ’77, PhD ’83). Ellen and Phil Neches invited the Lippers to a Caltech Associates program in New York and, according to Mike Lipper, they found in Caltech a community “where everyone has high intent and focuses on accomplishment.”

Mike Lipper joined Caltech’s Board of Trustees in 2005. As an influential securities analyst and wealth manager, he is interested in the scientific underpinnings of his profession. “It’s clear that different parts of the brain kick in when it comes to greed and fear, two emotions that greatly control investors,” he says. “One of the things that intrigues me is figuring out how people make decisions.”

Ruth Lipper adds, “It’s fascinating to learn how people might achieve intelligent balance, because what’s good for us individually on a micro level is not necessarily good for society on a macro level, and vice versa.”

The A. Michael and Ruth C. Lipper Discovery Fund will help fuel advancements in neuroeconomics, a burgeoning interdisciplinary field pioneered at Caltech. Combining experimental economics with imaging of brain activity to study neural processes, Caltech researchers are taking the lead in developing new ways to analyze the thoughts and feelings associated with economic decision-making.

“We look forward to being both surprised and delighted by all that they will accomplish.”
- Ruth Lipper

The couple’s second endowment—augmented by funds from the Gordon and Betty Moore Graduate Fellowship Match, which offers $1 for every $2 invested in endowed graduate fellowships at Caltech—is the A. Michael and Ruth C. Lipper Graduate Fellowship Fund, which specifies a preference for graduate students in neuroeconomics. Such fellowships benefit the entire Caltech community, supporting students and giving them—and their mentors—greater flexibility to pursue big questions.

Mike and Ruth Lipper both covered their own college educations through a combination of loans, scholarships, and part-time jobs. Their hope is that those who receive assistance through the Lipper Graduate Fellowship Fund will be motivated to follow their example and work hard, enjoy success, and one day invest some of their earnings in future generations of scholars. Ruth Lipper says, “We look forward to being both surprised and delighted by all that they will accomplish.”

“Caltech took a big risk when it invested a large amount of money in brain imaging and how it is connected to understanding behavior and its economic consequences,” says Provost Edward M. Stolper, the Carl and Shirley Larson Provostial Chair and William E. Leonhard Professor of Geology. “It is one of Caltech’s great successes that that bet paid off to such a degree. The Lippers’ gift will allow us to continue to lead in an area that is now one of Caltech’s signature strengths.”