Mediacom Communications founder, chairman and CEO Rocco Commisso and his wife Catherine have made one of the largest gifts to date to Columbia University’s Fu School of Engineering and Applied Science, creating a scholarship program that will support up to 20 undergraduate students at the school each year in perpetuity.
The Rocco and Catherine Commisso Scholarship will help boost the university-wide campaign initiated by Columbia President Lee Bollinger to raise $1.4 billion in financial assistance by June 2025.
“This Commisso Scholars program comes at a time when support for students is more critical than ever,” Bollinger said in a press release. “We greatly appreciate Rocco and Catherine’s gift and the deep care for students that drives their generosity.”
Rocco Commisso has been a long-time supporter of the school and its soccer program. A 1971 graduate of the University’s industrial engineering program, Rocco Commisso was a member of Columbia’s 1967 freshman soccer squad that went undefeated and was captain of the 1970 varsity team that competed in the NCAA men’s soccer tournament. He received his MBA from Columbia in 1975. In 2006, Commisso’s son Joseph received his undergraduate engineering degree from Columbia, following in his father’s footsteps.
Rocco Commisso has long put an emphasis on education, immigrating to the U.S. from Calabria, Italy with his family when he was 12 years old, settling in the Bronx, New York. He attended Mount Saint Michael Academy in the Bronx, moving on to Columbia on a full scholarship.
“The time I spent at Columbia was a truly life-changing experience for me,” Rocco Commisso said in a press release. “On the field, I was able to help bring a winning culture to the Lions’ soccer program. In the classroom, I was given the opportunity to earn a first-class engineering education that opened the doors to my future business career. However, without the financial support I received from Columbia, my ability to pursue an Ivy League education at one of the world’s finest universities would not have been possible. With this gift, Catherine and I hope to help students facing similar economic challenges realize their dream of graduating from Columbia. Ultimately, we want to ensure that the very best students, no matter their family’s circumstances, are able to attain a Columbia Engineering degree.”
After earning his MBA from Columbia Business School in 1975, Commisso spent a decade on Wall Street with Chase Manhattan Bank and the Royal Bank of Canada. He worked at Cablevision Industries from 1986 to 1995 where he served as executive vice president, chief financial officer, and director and went on to found Mediacom in 1995 to acquire and reinvigorate cable systems in America’s underserved smaller communities. Today, Mediacom is the nation’s fifth largest cable provider and was recently recognized by Deloitte Private and the Wall Street Journal as a U.S. Best Managed Company for the second year in a row. The company also seeks to help close the digital divide by offering affordable broadband plans to low-income families.
To be eligible for the Commisso Scholarship, a student need meet one of the following requirements: to have lived or studied in Italy for at least a year; to be proficient in Italian or have grown up speaking Italian in the home; to have demonstrated leadership or involvement in the Italian community or in Italian cultural activities; to be a member of Columbia University’s men’s or women’s soccer team; or to be from the Bronx, with a preference for alumni of Mount Saint Michael Academy.
“We truly appreciate the enormous generosity that Rocco has shown to our engineering students, and for his support over the years,” said Shih-Fu Chang, Dean of Columbia Engineering in a press release. “Making a Columbia education possible for deserving students, regardless of need, is a central value of our University and we are grateful for alumni like Rocco who continue to inspire all of us and give back in ways that will be truly transformational for our students.”
Commisso has generously given to the school and its soccer program over the years. More recently, he was Class Day speaker for Columbia Engineering graduates in 2021 and gave the annual Magill Lecture in 2020. He was also inducted into the Columbia University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2016 and is the namesake of the Rocco B. Commisso Soccer Stadium.
At a ceremony on June 9, the Columbia Engineering Alumni Association will be awarding him the Samuel Johnson Medal for Distinguished Achievement in a Field Beyond Engineering and Applied Science in recognition of his entrepreneurial achievements and exceptional leadership. Past Johnson Medal recipients include former head of Xerox Ursula Burns ('82SEAS) and Nobel Prize Winner Alvin Roth (’71SEAS).
“Working with Rocco has been a true privilege,” said Columbia University provost Mary C. Boyce in a press release. “His approach to leadership, philanthropy, and business epitomizes an engineering mindset, as well as a kind and generous spirit. His support will directly impact students while also enhancing the diversity that is a strength of our university.” ■
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Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.