$10M gift to fund expansion of U-M’s Barger Leadership Institute


The University of Michigan’s Barger Leadership Institute is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a new commitment from U-M alumnus and retired JetBlue Airways CEO Dave Barger.

The $10 million gift will expand and sustain the institute’s ability to develop forward-thinking leaders from LSA.

Dave Barger

In 2007, Barger provided a foundational gift to provide experiential leadership opportunities for students. The institute has since helped deliver a student experience that is defined beyond the classroom, with action-based programs that include technology startups, art projects, international development efforts and campus activities.

“It’s a great honor to be able to continue to support the BLI and to help expand experiential opportunities for the next generation of leaders,” Barger said. “Michigan excels at preparing undergraduate students to contribute as well-rounded, forward-thinking leaders, and it’s a privilege to be able to support this important work.”

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The gift also establishes the Richard H. Price Founders Fund at LSA, honoring the visionary leadership of Richard Price, the BLI’s founding director. The fund will keep the founding director’s vision alive by enabling future institute directors to experiment with innovative programs and opportunities.

“Ten years ago, Dave Barger’s foundational gift for the BLI transformed LSA’s ability to prepare liberal arts students for important leadership roles,” said LSA Dean Andrew Martin. “Dave’s generosity today will help us develop more CEOs, members of Congress, directors, innovators and leaders of the future.”

As the BLI enters its next decade, this new endowment will help sustain and expand the programming that has enabled students to become capable leaders.

Barger’s additional support will enhance and expand the BLI family of programs by giving more students access to BLI resources, such as fellowships, internships, skills seminars, small group coaching and global experiences. Funding will allow the BLI to expand ongoing programs and pilot new programs, all while promoting the work under way at the institute.

“One of the key ideas behind the BLI is that students learn how to be effective leaders not by sitting back and reading about it, but by taking their intellectual passions and interests and putting the rubber to the road,” said Jason Owen-Smith, director of the Barger Leadership Institute and professor of sociology, organizational studies and public policy, and research professor at the Survey Research Center.

“Over the past 10 years, individual students have benefited from the BLI through project support, study and work abroad, and access to opportunities — getting a peek behind the velvet curtain, so to speak. Because of Dave’s generosity, we are able to expand the scale of what we’re doing and to think very strategically about it. His gift will allow us to add additional complementary lines of work to reach more students on campus.”

“The BLI provided a positive and constructive environment for me to mature my leadership skills to be ready for the next step in my life,” said LSA senior Kate Marciniak. “Not only have I developed into a stronger and more effective leader, I’ve had access to incredible opportunities and transformative experiences that challenged me to grow both professionally and personally.”

The Barger Leadership Institute was created to foster leadership among undergraduates in any field by providing opportunities for leadership development experiences beyond the classroom. For the past decade, the BLI has helped shape future leaders by cultivating a student-driven and faculty-guided community, focused on action-learning projects.

As the core co-curricular program at the BLI, the Leadership Fellows program engages students from any field in projects, training activities and events that will help them harness their inner leaders.

Barger has been an ardent supporter of U-M since 1987, giving more than $18 million to support LSA, Athletics, University Libraries, Michigan Medicine and the Alumni Association.

As part his foundational gift to the BLI in 2007, Barger established both scholarships and professorships at LSA, including The Barger Family Professorship and Barger Leadership Institute Professorship, currently held by Owen-Smith. In addition, funding for fellows, interns, faculty and leadership partnerships has propelled the work of the BLI over the past decade.

He has also helped provide student-athletes with opportunities for academic, career and leadership development, in addition to funding Michigan Stadium renovations.

Barger has also lent his expertise to multiple committees at U-M, including LSA’s Dean’s Advisory Council and Organizational Studies Committee.

In 1998, Barger was a member of JetBlue Airways’ founding team as president and chief operating officer, eventually serving as chief executive officer for seven years. He currently serves as an operating partner at Connor Capital based in Santa Barbara, Calif., and he co-chairs the Industry Specialists at the Oaktree Transportation Infrastructure Fund.



  1. Vincenza Mueller
    on November 8, 2017 at 8:50 am

    This is great news for Liberal Arts and Sciences students and alumnae everywhere. It’s also great news for the world which will benefit from a well-rounded view of problems and solutions! Bravo LS&A!

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