Meet the ECS Philanthropists and Volunteers of the Year

From creating scholarships to volunteering on campus and making a major planned gift, Bill and Paula Purpura are among the college’s most enthusiastic supporters. Learn about these ECS Philanthropists and Volunteers of the Year and their perspective on paying it forward.

The Purpuras were honored at the College of ECS Donors, Advisors and Scholars event in December. From left are: Sang June Oh, Associate Dean; Susan Barua, Dean; Bill and Paula Purpura; Michael Karg, Executive Director of Development.

The year was 1973, just before Christmas. A young Bill Purpura walked nervously toward a list on the wall displaying the grade postings for his thermodynamics and heat transfer courses. He was shocked when he saw two B’s, instead of D’s, because he had struggled with exams all semester.

“These two professors saw past my sophomore panic on tests and gave me the grades they thought I deserved, based on my participation in their classes,” Bill Purpura (BSME ’76; MSMS ’79; MBA ’83) says. “Their compassion and their ability to see beyond my exam anxiety allowed me to become the engineer I would ultimately be and formed the basis for my future successes. I look back with great appreciation on those professors and that moment.”

The education and support he received at the Cal State Fullerton College of Engineering & Computer Science inspired Bill Purpura to give back to the college in many ways over the last several years.

Bill’s wife, Paula (BSCS ’77; MBA ’83), is an equally enthusiastic supporter. Having earned a computer science degree in the ’70s, she was one of few women in her classes and in her field after graduation. Her focus now, and throughout her career, has been to encourage women to go into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and she strongly supports the college’s dedication to this mission.

“It was a man’s world in 1977, a lot different than it is today, and there was a big learning curve and a lot of frustration,” Paula Purpura says. “I was able to get past it with the help of other people, and I would like to help other women move forward in their careers and lives by learning to embrace what’s different and make it fit, productively, for their company or team.”

The couple has created five scholarships at Cal State Fullerton – two at ECS, two at the College of Business and Economics, and one with the Cal State Fullerton Alumni Association. Recently, the Purpuras announced a $750,000 planned gift for ECS. Bill regularly volunteers on campus. Before the pandemic-necessitated shift to virtual events, the couple also hosted “Dinner with 12 Titans” events, which bring students and alumni together for casual conversations about their shared Titan experience and professional journeys.

“It’s wonderful to learn what’s going on from current Titans, and these dinners have made me hopeful for the future if these are the people who will be coming out to contribute to industry and society,” Paula says.

In December 2021, the Purpuras were named ECS Philanthropists and Volunteers of the Year.

Paying It Forward With Perspective

Bill and Purpura co-founded, and Bill serves as managing partner of, Dargon Development – a financial, real estate, and engineering services firm based in Anaheim. The firm has managed financial limited partnerships and provides specialized market trading analysis for sophisticated investors, consulting engineering services, and rental property management.

Both the Purpuras previously worked for Boeing: Bill as a senior system engineer and Paula as an embedded systems software engineer. The Purpura’s scholarship contributions are matched 50 percent by Boeing.

The Purpuras contribute more than money. Bill is a mentor for ECS and the College of Business and Economics senior project teams, supports a variety of Titan Alumni events, and presents specialized tutorials at both schools on topics covering project management, systems engineering, and resume writing. Bill also served on the Cal State Fullerton Alumni Board of Directors for six years.

“I’m more of a behind-the-scenes supporter, but Bill gets enormous satisfaction from engaging with students, and it gets him out of the house,” Paula says, with a laugh.

Encouraging a Business Mindset

“I regularly urge my mentees to get their Master of Engineering degrees immediately, if that’s their aspiration, and then – if they have the time and especially if their companies will finance it – to get their MBAs,” Bill says. “For engineers, it’s an intuitive program – you just follow the logic. And it opens their eyes to the business side of getting things to production. As engineers, we have a natural inclination to just keep optimizing and refining, but that’s not always what’s best for the business.”

Bill and Paula Purpura

As a young engineer, Paula says she didn’t understand why certain decisions were made at the company level, which the technical staff frequently found frustrating. But as she worked toward her MBA, she began to understand the thought process and financial considerations behind managerial decisions and how they impacted engineers.

The Purpuras say earning both their engineering degrees and their MBAs from Cal State Fullerton allowed them to achieve successful engineering careers while also co-founding and operating a small investment fund on the side. This educational experience also gave Bill some important insights to share with students who dream of becoming entrepreneurs.

“If someone pitches an idea, I always ask, ‘Where are the four other people you could convince to come in with you?’ It is almost impossible to successfully create a new business from scratch by yourself. Even with a team, the failure rate of start-ups after three years is insane,” Bill says. “I tell them it’s a better idea to get a job and go learn what’s involved in a business. Then you’re getting paid to learn. Only after you’ve had that experience should you think about becoming an entrepreneur.”

Inspiring Others to Give Back

Right now, Bill is working with the Cal State Fullerton Career Center on a program in which mentors video their responses to more than 300 questions about graduate school, future employment, education and career advice, and more. These videos will ultimately be accessible to students, who will just have to click on a mentor to read about their background and hear answers to their questions.

“I understand the value, and the Career Center is establishing a good cross-section of people to participate,” he says. “I do always make sure to add that what I’m saying is just my opinion, so students should always seek opinions from multiple sources.”

Both Bill and Paula encourage other alumni to contribute to campus, whether it’s with their time, financial support, or both.

“It’s important to acknowledge that you didn’t get where you are without someone’s help, guidance, or protection. Others enabled your rise to affluence or a senior level, and it’s time for you to pay that forward and give back to the next generation,” Bill says. “It’s a matter of ethics, of having character. If you’re not willing to contribute and tell the story of the people who helped you, you’re saying you did it all by yourself, and that’s never true.”

Recommended Articles