By Liam Kinney
James J. Spilker Jr. ’55 M.S. ’56 Ph.D. ’58, a School of Engineering consulting professor and central figure in the development of GPS, and his wife Anna Marie Spilker, a real estate broker and investor, have pledged $28 million to Stanford University.
The couple’s donation will name The James and Anna Marie Spilker Engineering and Applied Sciences Building in the Science and Engineering Quad – providing researchers with the facilities for atomic-scale research – and endow a professorship in the School of Engineering.
“Anna Marie and I believe strongly that America’s ability to compete in the 21st century – even more so than the 20th – will depend critically on our ability to innovate and excel in science and engineering,” Spilker told the Stanford Report. “Many jobs of the past century are gone. This gift is an effort to ensure that one of America’s great research institutions retains the leadership it has enjoyed for decades.”
Before joining the Stanford faculty in 2001 as a consulting professor of electrical engineering and aeronautical/astronautical engineering, Spilker played a critical role in developing the Global Positioning System (GPS), authoring and co-authoring several papers in the 1960s on the signal timing technology that enables the precision tracking of GPS satellites. Spilker later worked on the GPS system’s architecture and signal structure, continuing that work up to 2005 when he co-founded the Stanford University Center for Position, Navigation and Time.
Spilker has also enjoyed a distinguished business career, including stints with AOSense and Stanford Telecommunications, in which – as co-founder, CEO and chairman – he built from three employees to more than 1,300 without resorting to venture capital funding. He described the gift as a complement and expansion of the numerous opportunities already available to current Stanford students.
“They have within their grasp the ability to create technologies that can change the world or to found new companies that can employ thousands,” Spilker told the Stanford Report. “Most important, if they truly love what they do, they have the key catalyst for success.”