Jim Sipos is a man of great loyalty and consistency, which is evident in both his career and his support for the UNM School of Engineering.
Sipos, who earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from UNM in 1979, started giving back to the School of Engineering right after he earned his degree, and his support has remained consistent throughout the decades.
“I started giving $100 a year, which I did for years,” he said. “Then it increased to maybe $300 a year, then $1,000, then $3,000.”
Sipos said giving back was natural for him, and he was in a good position to do it. As a student, he was able to get on-on-job engineering experience through the co-op program, which translated into not only a solid job with Motorola in the Phoenix, Ariz., area, but also a bonus.
“In those days, Motorola had two starting pay scales for engineers: one for college grads, and one for college grads with engineering experience. Thanks to the co-op program at UNM, I had that experience and was paid $1,000 more a year. So grads from MIT or Purdue without that experience were actually paid less. I’m grateful for the career that the School gave me,” he said.
He began a career with Motorola Government Electronics Division right after he finished his coursework at UNM. He stayed with the company his entire career, although his division was sold to General Dynamics in 2001 and he was then employed by them until he retired in 2016.
“Even though my employer changed, I worked in the same building all those years,” he said.
Sipos’ latest gift, which totals around $2 million, is an endowed bequest gift split into four different funds: the Jim Sipos Electrical and Computer Engineering Chair’s Endowed Fund, the Jim Sipos Electrical and Computer Engineering Labs Endowed Fund, the Jim Sipos Student Support Endowed Fund and the Jim Sipos Unrestricted Engineering Endowed Fund.
In November 2022, he attended UNM Engineering’s first estate planning luncheon seminar, which solidified his intention to sign bequest agreements to benefit the School, which was already in progress.
Sipos, a native of New York state, moved to Belen, N.M., with his family when he was 12. After living in Mesa, Ariz., for his career, he moved back to New Mexico after he retired, building a house in Placitas. Upon retirement, he was approached by the School of Engineering about getting more involved.
“I was invited to a UNM basketball game and that’s where I met Christos, then I connected with Brian Burnett, and everything started happening from there.”
Sipos became a member of the School of Engineering Alumni Leadership Board and was also a frequent attendee and volunteer at School events, such as the Engineering Expo and Open House.
He said that spending time with current students inspired him to want to give back in student-focused ways.
“I met a lot of students, and I was really impressed,” he said. “I thought that this would be a good legacy and that would help the School and the students.”
That time included attending some classes in the “WHY Lab” space in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. From that experience, he saw great potential. That led to creating a bequest for the labs in the department.
“I thought they could really use some new equipment,” he said.
And he is well aware of the difference in the cost of a college education compared to when he was a UNM student.
“My father was a plumber and my mother was a bank teller,” he said. “They were middle class and they could easily afford to pay my tuition, which was then about $150 or $250 a semester. I think one time I even paid it in cash because they were out of checks!”
Sipos said that cost has increased substantially and now means most students need to incur loans and some can’t afford to attend at all. That’s why three of the bequests he created involve either direct student support or are unrestricted, which means that the dean or department head can put funds where they are most needed.
The nature of bequests and estate gifts is that the money is paid out only after the donor is deceased. For Sipos, who never married and has no children or close family who needs the money, the School of Engineering was an excellent choice of beneficiary.
“I give to some other charities, like veterans and animal rescue charities, but I wanted to leave some kind of a legacy, something with my name on it.”
Sipos worked hard in a career that compensated him well, and after retirement, decided to get his financial plans in order. “What do I want to do with this? You can’t take it with you.”
He points out that his mother is still alive at 95, so Sipos could well live many more years, which would mean that the School would not benefit for decades. In the meantime, he will be working with his financial advisor and attorney on ways he can give back while still alive, through ways like qualified charitable contributions (QCDs). QCDs allow individuals who are at least 70½ years old to donate to charities directly from a taxable IRA instead of taking their required minimum distributions.
“I would like to start seeing benefits now, to elevate UNM, the students and increase Engineering scholarships,” Sipos said.
What is it YOUR time to do? Learn more about giving to the School of Engineering and the Our Time campaign.