Donors Steve and Tammy Conston Support Neuroscience Research with Major Gift
The first time Steve and Tammy Conston set foot on the UC Davis campus, they felt right at home. That visit was a college tour with their youngest son Jacob (B.S.’15, M.S. ’19), and they all sensed that Davis was the right fit. “We just knew, and Jacob knew,” reminisces Tammy. “I know it sounds sappy, but there’s just something about the atmosphere at Davis. You feel like you’re home.”
Although the elder Constons aren’t UC Davis alumni, their connection has grown in the decade-plus since they first visited. In turn, they’ve helped make the university a more accessible home to students in need through generous gifts to the College of Biological Sciences (CBS).
Both Constons enjoyed long careers in the tech industry. Steve was an electrical engineer and Tammy a finance professional, and they are now both retired. Steve, originally from New Jersey, is an alumnus of Rutgers University. Tammy, originally from New Hampshire, grew up in San Jose and graduated from San Jose State University—though she now says, with a laugh, “If I could do it all over again, seeing UC Davis and what a wonderful school it is, I would’ve loved to have gone there.”
Their youngest son, Jacob, did love it. He was a Regents Scholar and earned highest honors as a cell biology major before going on to earn a master’s degree in molecular, cellular, and integrative physiology. The Constons wanted to help others access the opportunities and experiences that Jacob had at UC Davis. In 2016, they established the Steve and Tammy Conston Scholarship to support CBS undergraduates with financial need. Steve also serves on the college’s Campaign Leadership Council, a position he began in 2019.
Growing Gifts to Support Neuroscience Research
In December 2023, the Constons made their most generous gift to date, totaling $325,000. Of that, $75,000 is pledged over five years to support their existing scholarship and other funds. The remaining $250,000 will establish the Steven and Tammy Conston Neuroscience Excellence Award, which was inspired by the success of the Center for Neuroscience’s (CNS) fast-pitch competition. In that program, faculty compete for seed funding for new and emerging projects by pitching their work under a time limit. Donors in the center’s Director’s Circle vote for their favorite project to win a philanthropic research grant.
As CNS Director’s Circle members since 2019, the Constons attended the fast-pitch event each year and have been continually impressed by the center’s faculty and their research. Their award will extend this opportunity to graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. The Constons have a special interest in supporting research into brain health and related issues because Jacob is autistic. “We hope that some of these students and postdocs find novel solutions to prevailing problems, especially in the area of neuroscience,” Steve says.
Tammy agrees: “There could be a shining star out there who just happens to come upon an idea that’s huge. I hope that by providing support today, we’re helping them find something that proves beneficial in the future,” she says.
“Steve and Tammy’s visionary commitment to advancing neuroscience research embodies the spirit of innovation and inclusivity at the Center for Neuroscience,” says Kimberley McAllister, director of the Center for Neuroscience. “Their generous gift empowers graduate students and postdoctoral scholars to embark on groundbreaking journeys, and opens doors to novel solutions in brain health. We are deeply grateful for their thoughtful and transformative contribution, propelling the CNS towards new frontiers of discovery.”
For Steve, the fast-pitch format was also important, teaching students a critical skill they can use in academia or industry: “Learning to tell your story quickly and in a way that is well understood by the audience is a powerful skill, and that’s something we want to support these kids getting,” he says.
After his long career as an electrical engineer, he especially values the way Davis teaches students practical problem-solving skills: “Especially in STEM at Davis, they pull in the necessary groups to solve problems. They don’t work in silos; they’re very collaborative, and that’s the way the real world works—the way successful industry works,” he says.
A Feeling of Home at Davis
More than such skills, however, the Constons are motivated to support the feeling of home and family they felt from their very first visit to UC Davis. “There’s just so much here,” says Tammy. “Everything that you could think of, whether it’s research opportunities, an excellent education, or a feeling of community, Davis provides that to students.”
Steve agrees: “UC Davis really cares about their students,” he says. “From the chancellor all the way down, the whole campus really cares about providing the best education possible.”
Recently, the Constons have made the Davis region their literal home. After more than 34 years in the Bay Area, during their busy careers and raising their two sons, Adam and Jacob, they’ve relocated to Woodland, just a few minutes north of campus and closer to Jacob and other family.
The Constons’ commitment to UC Davis reflects their confidence in the institution and its ability to give all students what they need to thrive—and to benefit society more broadly as well: “If you really want to help build a better world, Davis is one of those places that’s looking at the big picture of how to do that,” says Steve. “Your philanthropy there will be well rewarded by the feeling you’ll get from helping students.
Kate Washington, Ph.D., is a freelance writer based in Sacramento and the author of Already Toast: Caregiving and Burnout in America. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, TIME and Sunset, among other publications.