The Morgans on becoming Builders: “Leave something behind that’s more than you can be”

December 14, 2023

Brad Morgan and Julie Shin Morgan found their people at UC Berkeley. Julie’s best friend for life, Stella Sebastiani. Brad’s mentor, Paul Bartlett, and his first labmate, Yumi Nakagawa. And, at a party filled with chemistry students and church youth counselors, they fell for one another — “a small town Midwestern boy and a big city girl from LA,” as Brad said.

Moving to Berkeley had been a culture clash for both students in different ways, but they each welcomed the new perspectives. UC Berkeley taught them how to communicate, collaborate, and think critically.

“It was such a period of growth for me,” said Brad. “It was nothing short of miraculous. I entered a much different person than when I left, and when I left, I was much stronger, more well-rounded, and more vibrant.”

In October 2023, Julie and Brad were inducted as Builders of Berkeley, joining an esteemed list of households who have given at least $1 million to the university. They couldn’t believe it when they got the news.

“We had no clue whatsoever,” said Julie. “We've been wanting to set an example for our children. Now that we can do something, we’ve found the cause we believe in. Just do a little bit at a time until you feel like you can do more.”

That slow-but-steady approach has benefited people across campus — including chemistry students, museum visitors, student-athletes, undergraduate researchers, and students experiencing financial difficulties. It also offers clear proof of the impact of incremental giving.

Improving the student experience drives the Morgans’ philanthropy. The gift that finally etched their names into the granite Builders of Berkeley wall by Doe Library sustains a partnership between the Division of Arts & Humanities and the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive (known as BAMPFA) that allows film and media students to attend screenings and events free of charge, removing a financial obstacle to academically and personally enriching experiences.

“The program to fund student admission to films and events allows my students to experience the vivid images and sound of distant places and eras,” said Weihong Bao, an associate professor in the Departments of Film & Media and East Asian Languages & Cultures. “The large screen and live events, with introductions by film experts, have created great enthusiasm and curiosity from my students; my classes were so much more animated thanks to the film screening.”

Often, the Morgans boost programs they know need help with flexible support, allowing administrators to direct funding to wherever it's most needed. For example, Julie had expressed concern about the lack of advisors in the College of Letters & Science — which currently has about 800 students per advisor — and saw how this high ratio impacted their daughter, A.J., when she attended Berkeley. Their son, Nick, who went elsewhere for college, had much easier access to his advisor. The Morgans narrowed that gap by providing additional resources.

“Investing in advising is really about investing in our students,” said Jennifer Johnson-Hanks, the executive dean of the College of Letters & Science. “Advisers are the people who sit with our students when they are navigating campus opportunities, sorting out difficult questions, or having a hard time. Students need someone who can listen to and understand their situation. We’re so grateful for the Morgans’ generous support that makes it possible to expand the reach of advising.”

Carol Christ stands between Brad and Julie to present them with a gift in recognition of their philanthropy.

The Morgans with Chancellor Carol Christ at their Builders of Berkeley induction event in October. (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)

In addition, Julie noticed the lack of opportunities for students in the social sciences to develop their research skills. Early in their relationship, Brad teased Julie about her political science degree. The liberal arts didn’t appear rigorous enough for the Ph.D. candidate in chemistry. Julie eventually won that argument, and the two created the Shin Morgan Fund to expand the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship. To date, they have funded 10 students’ research projects, including students majoring in the social sciences and humanities.

"As a first-generation Mexican-American student, their support meant everything to me," said Brayan Ramos, a history major who tracked the local impacts of repatriating 1.8 million Mexican laborers during the Great Depression. "Thanks to the Morgans' generosity, I was able to dedicate my time and energy to this important research. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to have delved deeper into a topic that is often overlooked in our history books."

Snapshots of the Morgans' philanthropy

Julie and Brad, wearing formal attire, pose together in front of a granite wall with ethced names of other Builders of Berkeley

Julie and Brad in front of the granite Builders of Berkeley wall. (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)

Now that we can do something, we’ve found the cause we believe in. Just do a little bit at a time until you feel like you can do more.
Julie Shin Morgan
A woman, A.J., rides on the back of a man, Nick.

The Morgan's two children, A.J. and Nick.

Apples, sweet potatoes, and bananas in bins at the Basic Needs Center's food pantry.

Produce available to students at the Basic Needs Center's food pantry. (Image © UC Regents)

Ramona Naddaff and Michael Lewis in conversation at an Art of Writing event the Jacobsons attended.

Author Michael Lewis at an Art of Writing event. The Morgans recently began supporting the program. (UC Berkeley photo by Eric Kotila)

Giant letters spelling out BAMPFA are installed in front of the building.

The Morgans sponsored free BAMPFA entrance for film and media students. (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)

Brad Morgan, on one knee, smiles and gestures toward his name on the Builders of Berkeley wall

Brad gestures toward his name on the Builders of Berkeley wall. (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)