Valerie is a retired certified public accountant, not a scientist. Yet she believes that scientists and engineers hold the key to creating a better future. She has followed news about Caltech researchers’ efforts to collect solar power in space and wirelessly transmit it to Earth. The scope and ambition of the project, she says, are what the world needs to combat climate change.

Jeff, a retired optometrist, fell in love with science when he was 13 years old and immersed himself in astrophysics, including string theory, black holes, and dark matter. Today, he marvels at how powerful telescopes in space and on land are helping scientists unravel mysteries of the universe. 

“In the last 100 years, we went from thinking that only one galaxy existed to discovering other planets in other galaxies—even dating the age of the universe,” Jeff says. “Isn’t that amazing? How could anyone not be interested in science?”

To pay tribute to the institution at the forefront of so many discoveries, the Engles endowed the Sleep & Engle Scholarship, which also honors Valerie’s family name, in 2020. In addition, they have included Caltech in their estate plans. Their bequest will contribute additional funds to the scholarship endowment and create a legacy that will help even more undergraduates.


Just as remarkable as the Engles’ generosity is their faith in Caltech. The Engles are not alumni. They live near the forests of Northern Idaho and have never even visited Caltech’s campus. (The closest they have been to Pasadena was a road trip to Santa Barbara a few years ago.) 

But they do not have to live nearby to appreciate Caltech’s outsized impact on science and society. 

“By all standards, Caltech punches way above its weight,” Valerie says. 

The decision to use their gift to establish a scholarship grew out of their personal experience. Both Valerie and Jeff graduated from college with student loan debt. Valerie lessened her financial burden by cleaning pipettes and mouse cages in Cornell University’s science laboratories while studying accounting at Ithaca College. Jeff relied on scholarships from the University of Houston. 

“The scholarships really made a difference, and I always remembered that generosity,” Jeff says. 


Ensuring that talented young minds can study at Caltech regardless of their families' income is one of the Institute's highest priorities. Currently, more than half of Caltech undergraduates receive financial aid. To meet students' financial needs and eliminate institutional student loans, Caltech has launched the Initiative for Caltech Students, a fundraising campaign that seeks to raise $250 million to enhance the student experience, including $100 million for undergraduate scholarships. 

The Engles are thrilled that their gift is already making a difference. 

“It’s so cool to hear about the research from the students we’re helping,” Valerie says. “In the next 30 to 40 years, one of these students might become a Nobel laureate. You never know.”