Earlier this year, Dorlene Root faced a big decision: Whom would she name in her will? She was pleasantly surprised to discover that some of life’s biggest decisions end up being the easiest ones.

In their 40 years together, Dorlene and her husband, George Root (BS ’62, MS ’63), had never given much thought to what would happen to their estate. But when George passed away in March 2021, Dorlene realized it was time to think about beneficiaries. “I asked myself how our hard-earned savings could make a difference in this world,” she says, “and Caltech was the answer.” 

roots George and Dorlene Root


Dorlene’s connection to Caltech is one step removed: George earned his degrees nearly two decades before they met. After completing his studies, he remained in the Pasadena area, working briefly at a small engineering company and then at JPL, where he thrived for 16 years. In 1981, a year after he and Dorlene met on a cycling tour in New Zealand, the couple married and moved to Colorado. He enjoyed the remainder of his career at Ball Aerospace and Hughes Aircraft Company. 

“George was a brilliant man—also humble and very 
shy,” Dorlene says. “He never talked about himself or his accomplishments, but his Caltech degrees spoke volumes and helped open doors for him.”

Thus, Dorlene’s decision to name Caltech as the main beneficiary in her will was, in part, a decision of the heart. She wanted to celebrate and support 
the institution that launched her husband’s fruitful and fulfilling career. “One of his supervisors told me that George was among the top 10 infrared-sensor designers in the country,” Dorlene recalls. “He truly excelled in his career, and Caltech fostered the confidence that helped him shine.” 

But Caltech was also a pragmatic choice. Dorlene credits the Institute with providing the right environment for the best and brightest to make scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs for the betterment of humankind.


George received scholarships as an undergraduate  at Caltech, and that sparked Dorlene’s idea to support aspiring scholars. But she opted to focus on graduate students. As she points out, a BS from Caltech is versatile, and when undergraduates  leave, they take myriad career paths. Her particular interest, however, is in preparing future generations  of engineers. So, she decided to invest in those who are further along in their educational paths and thus more likely to stay the course.

A former law enforcement and probation officer, Dorlene recommends that no one ask her technical questions about computers and other electronics. (You may, however, approach her if you require assistance apprehending a criminal, she says.)  “I don’t have a brain for technology and gadgets—most people don’t—which is why I want to support students who have proved they belong  
at Caltech,” she explains. “The world will always need great engineers.” 

After she made her decision, Dorlene emailed Caltech’s Office of Gift Planning and was introduced to director of development Rick Robertson. He walked her through the steps of creating a fund by bequest, a process she describes as “straightforward and pleasant as can be.” He also gave her a new way to think about the gift. “It was Rick who suggested a name for the fund,” Dorlene shares. “I thought I was going to make a donation to help students get an exceptional education at Caltech, and that would be that. But now Caltech has the George and Dorlene Root Fellowship, which sounds nice.”