Larry Gates received much more than classroom lessons from his former professor, the late Don Wells. The Redlands native also learned to master the art of giving back.
About 25 years ago, the Cal Poly Pomona alumnus (’87, civil engineering) reconnected with Wells, and they went on a ski trip to Park City, Utah. They relished in the memories of old times, but he and Wells also discussed how Gates could get involved with his alma mater.
“That drew me back into the campus,” said Gates, who is a founder and president of DRC Engineering. “Also, after starting the company in 1997, I wanted to recruit Cal Poly Pomona engineers. I just wanted to give back to the campus because it was such a valuable education at such an affordable cost.”
More than 25 years after that pivotal trip with Wells, Gates remains dedicated to service to the university — chairing boards, endowing scholarships, and generously donating to academic programs and activities. It is in response to his generosity that Gates will receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree at commencement in May.
“I was 100 percent shocked,” Gates said of learning of the honor, adding that he is glad he didn’t know his name was submitted before it was approved.
If Gates can find a way to say yes, he does. His yeses have included serving as the inaugural president of the Cal Poly Pomona Philanthropic Board and being a long-time member of the College of Engineering’s Dean’s Leadership Board. He and his wife, Amy, have contributed a substantial amount of money to a variety of university-wide and college-based programs that include upgrading laboratories, women in engineering, STEM in public schools nearby the campus, supporting student competitions and funding the endowment of three scholarships, one in honor of his father, James Gates.
“My dad was the first in his family to go to college,” Gates said. “My mom worked as a secretary and put him through school. My No. 1 philanthropic push is helping those who are the first in their families — particularly Latino, Black and other students who haven’t had as many opportunities to get into the college.”
Although Gates had an outgoing personality that he felt was more suited for business, he followed in the footsteps of his father and two brothers and majored in civil engineering. After working at a few companies post-graduation, he founded Anaheim Hills-based consulting and engineering surveying firm, DRC Engineering, with fellow alumnus Warren Williams Jr. (’83, civil engineering).
His firm’s major projects include the transformation of the former March Air Force Base in Riverside into distribution facilities for Amazon and UPS and other major companies, as well as the construction of retail shopping centers in Chino, Fullerton and Burbank.
DRC Engineering has 60 engineers and surveyors, about 15 of whom are Cal Poly Pomona graduates, one of many ways Gates is providing opportunities for fellow Broncos but really, he feels he is the one benefitting.
Professor Yasser Salem, chair of the civil engineering department, said Gates has been very supportive of the college and the department over the years, buying a trailer for the concrete canoe program, providing monies last year to help buy a drone and additional funding for equipment in the structural lab.
In addition, he is generous with his time, previously leading the Dean’s Council’s mentoring program, among other efforts.
“He is very proud of our affiliation with us, and we are proud of having him on our board and in our Hall of Fame,” Salem said. “He is someone students can model themselves after. His is a good story to tell for the students, especially since he is still involved and engaged and visits our classrooms. I am glad to hear the university is recognizing him with an honorary degree.”
Allan Ng, a civil engineering lecturer and fellow alumnus (’03, civil engineering) said he got to know Gates when they were both serving on the department’s Industry Council.
Ng said that Gates takes a real interest in students’ education and enhancing their hands-on experiences.
“He was really interested in one of our senior projects,” Ng said. “The students presented to him, and he gave them critiques, told them what they should do and where they are on the right track. I think it is great that he is being honored because Larry sincerely cares.”