Honolulu philanthropist donates $5 million to University of Hawaiʻi’s RISE Center
Honolulu philanthropist and former First Hawaiian Bank Chairman Walter A. Dods Jr. has donated $5 million to the University of Hawaiʻi’s new Residences for Innovative Student Entrepreneurs, known as RISE, at the Mānoa campus.
In recognition of this momentous gift, the building will be renamed the Walter Dods Jr. RISE Center.
Dods is an alumnus of UH Mānoa’s Shidler College of Business, a longtime donor to UH and former president of the UH Foundation’s Board of Trustees.
The student entrepreneurship and innovation center, with housing for 374 students, opened in August. Programs at RISE are operated by the Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship at the business college. The historic new gift builds on Dods’ earlier $500,000 gift to PACE that was announced in 2022.
“I’m honored to champion a program that’s growing new generations of critical thinkers and entrepreneurs who will create the businesses that grow Hawaiʻi’s economy,” Dods said in a press release. “I look forward to seeing the future these PACE at RISE students will create for themselves, our state and the world.”
Dods has been an active community volunteer and fundraiser since early in his career. He retired from First Hawaiian Bank in 2004 after a 36-year career there, the last 15 years as chairman and CEO. A recognized industry leader, Dods was the national president of the American Bankers Association in 1996.
“Walter Dods has embodied leadership, entrepreneurship and innovation over his long career at First Hawaiian Bank as well as through his expansive and generous service to the community,” UH President David Lassner said in the press release. “It is beyond appropriate to link the Dods name to the premier place and program that will nurture our future leaders who will drive Hawaiʻi’s economy, and we thank Walter for his forward-thinking and generous commitment to our students.”
Dods’ roots in Hawaiʻi and his dedication to the community run deep.
Born to a blue-collar, working-class family in Honolulu, he went to work after graduating from Saint Louis School, and later attended night classes at UH Mānoa while working full-time. Dods graduated in 1967 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. In 1993, he was honored with the UH Distinguished Alumni Award.
His philanthropic support of UH stretches back to 1975, when he was among the founders of UH Foundation’s President’s Club to encourage support for UH from alumni, friends and community leaders. He served on the UH Foundation Board of Trustees, was its president from 1978 to 1980 and chaired the 1998 UH Campaign for Hawaiʻi that raised $116 million for the university.
Dods and his late wife, Diane, established the Walter A. and Diane N. Dods Endowed Scholarship Fund with a gift of $1 million. It is for students who are immigrants or children of immigrants. He also helped raise $1.6 million to establish the Dan and Maggie Inouye Distinguished Chair in Democratic Ideals and co-chaired the committee to establish the Senator Daniel K. Akaka Regents Scholarship Endowment.
In 2004, Dods was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, with Gold and Silver Star, an imperial honor from the Government of Japan. Since retirement, he has served as the board chairman of Alexander & Baldwin, and later Matson. He was also a trustee of the Samuel Mills Damon Estate, and served as non-executive board chairman for Hawaiian Telcom and Mid Pac Petroleum. He is currently a director on the board of Par Pacific Hawaiʻi.
RISE was built as the first public-private partnership between UH, UH Foundation and Hunt Development Group Hawaiʻi.