Samueli School Donor Chooses Unique Option for Giving Back

Growing up in the 1960s, James Spoto knew exactly what career path he wanted to take.


“Watching the emergence of the space program, I desperately wanted to be an astronaut,” Spoto said. “But, as I grew older and found out I couldn’t go on many amusement park rides without getting motion sickness, I realized my chances of becoming an astronaut were slim.”


Deciding engineering was “the next best thing,” he enrolled in the University of Florida’s electrical engineering program, where he earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. As his career progressed and he turned his attention to research, Spoto recognized the value of industry tapping into local university networks for research, recruits, and other benefits. In the mid-90s, at the request of former boss Dwight Decker, Ph.D., at Conexant Systems, Inc., Spoto, the recently retired president and CEO of Applied Wave Research, Inc. (AWR) and an independent investor, became involved at the University of California, Irvine’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering.


“We felt UC Irvine was positioned to become a leader in electronic research and education, and I shared Dean Nicolaos Alexopoulos’ vision of growing the school into a quality institution,” Spoto said. He was tasked to work closely with the dean to seed and fund the Center for Pervasive Communications and Computing, and the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology.


Today, Spoto and his wife, Cathy, are avid supporters of The Henry Samueli School of Engineering, and recently chose a unique way to contribute to the School’s development – a charitable remainder unitrust (CRUT). 


A charitable remainder unitrust is a gift plan designed to supplement income, while establishing a lasting legacy for the benefit of an organization. It enables the donor to make a significant gift of appreciated assets, such as securities or real estate, while enjoying immediate charitable tax deductions and retaining an income stream from the asset as it sits in the trust.


A donor transfers the asset into a specifically designed trust, which sells the asset and reinvests the proceeds. The trust is not required to pay any upfront capital gains tax on the sale of the appreciated property. The donor is guaranteed a fixed percentage of the interest generated by the trust account, and the organization retains any remaining interest earned. Upon the passing of the donor, the money in trust becomes available to the organization to support the donor’s area of interest.  Conditions on the use of the money are common, but are often flexible to appropriately meet the needs of the organization at the time the money becomes available.


This type of gift can be attractive to donors who want to support the SamueliSchool, and are also looking for long-term financial benefits associated with the gift. Along with the income and tax benefits, a donor can also use this method of giving as a means to demonstrate their vision, values, and hopes for making a difference in the world through an area of research and study of importance to them.


Spoto’s personal financial adviser introduced him to the concept of the CRUT as part of his estate planning. “We were attracted to the tax benefits and the regular and growing income stream, guaranteed for the rest of our lives. It made the most sense for us in supporting the School’s growth,” Spoto said.


Based on his experiences, Spoto encourages individuals to get involved with supporting the SamueliSchool at whatever level they can. “You don’t have to personally contribute cash or assets to have a positive impact,” Spoto added. “You can have your company become more active with the School. You can be more active in recruiting new graduates from UC Irvine, or attending the School’s seminars and open lectures. Your involvement will not only help the School, but it will also expand your knowledge and network.”


The Spotos’ gift will be used to create an endowment in engineering science, a fellowship, or an endowed chair in engineering, in the name of James Spoto.


“Over my years of working with UC Irvine, I’ve become very connected to the engineering program and the people there,” Spoto said. “There are many reasons why I want to do whatever I can to see UC Irvine grow and prosper as a quality institution.”


Prior to AWR, a high frequency electronic design automation supplier, Spoto was senior vice president of platform technologies at Conexant Systems, a spin-off of the Semiconductor System Group of Rockwell. He was responsible for the development of the core technology portfolio for Conexant, including semiconductor processes, packaging, design automation, and intellectual property reuse. Spoto was also vice president of engineering and co-founder of the analog division of Cadence Design Systems, Inc. He is a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering and Tau Beta Pi. 


For more information about supporting The Henry Samueli School of Engineering through charitable remainder unitrusts, or other types of legacy planning gift options, please contact Pamela Gesme Miller, assistant dean of development and external relations, at 949.824.6563 or Jamie Stewart-Marsh, director of development, at 949.824.5396.