20-plus years of giving, inspired by great education

Couple funds two scholarship endowments at the U of M

May 1, 2023

Steve Piazza enlisted in the U.S. Navy fresh out of Robbinsdale high school. Four years later, he was studying computer science at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus—and eventually his life’s path would lead him to Lori Dietrich. The couple connected over a love of movies, travel, and philanthropy. The latter, especially, when it came to helping educate and empower youth.

“I started at the U when I was 23 years old, but I saw a lot of action before that,” said Piazza. “I did one tour in Vietnam, and I’ve gone across the Atlantic twice, the Pacific twice, through the Panama Canal twice, and then the Mediterranean… my classes at the U were pretty rigorous, and I had to work parttime pretty much all the time to make ends meet. But, I did it. I got my bachelor’s degree in 1975.”

Piazza, now retired, went on to work for Control Data Corporation and other companies—never losing sight of the value of his college degree or the doors it opened.

“There are so many students who are worthy of getting a good education that really can’t afford it, and if you can afford a little bit more, anything really helps,” Dietrich said.

Dietrich, who recently retired from Great River Energy, earned her MBA from the Carlson School of Management in 1989 and holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of North Dakota.

Together, Dietrich and Piazza have established three endowments—two at the University of Minnesota alone—through a number of ways, including annual giving, estate planning, and insurance policies. Their diversified giving, started more than 50 years ago but formalized two decades ago, will continue to fund scholarships for students long after they’re gone.

“Even if you don’t consider yourself wealthy, which we do not, it’s so fulfilling to be able to share what you have with someone else,” Dietrich said.

When asked how one starts or cultivates a habit of giving, she replied: “It doesn’t have to be a huge amount. When we were struggling with our bills and trying to figure out how to pay them, we still made sure to contribute because it was so important to us to share with others.”

Here the generous couple share their thoughts on a few other topics:

How they met

Lori: I went to the University of North Dakota and had a very good friend who worked with Steve, and met him on a blind date.

Steve: If she opens her eyes, I’m in trouble.

Memories of the U

Lori: I was in an evening MBA program at the U and working fulltime. So I didn’t have a lot of campus experience, but I remember the classes and a few of my professors. I have become more familiar with the U after I got the degree than when I was getting it.

Steve: When I was at the U, I never went to any athletic events or joined any clubs. Monday to Friday, I worked four out of the five nights during the week in a supermarket. I would finish classes at 3 p.m.—then at 5 p.m. I was starting at my job. It was also the second year computer science was available as a major.

The value of education

Lori: Education is so important to us because that is one of the things that has helped us get to where we are today.

Steve: I personally believe it’s necessary to have more than a high school diploma. I have seen kids graduate, and I have talked to them—my batting average is .000 in trying to help them—but I tell them: You need to get something past high school even if it’s two years at a community college or a trade school. Quite frankly, in the United States of America, money is necessary to exist and money provides a certain amount of freedom to do things. So you are not working all the time, and you have the chance to get out and see the world.

Scholarships for students

Lori: If you are giving currently and can increase that, you can really help in the lives of students. We’ve heard from these students of how having a scholarship enables them to do other things rather than study—like Steve wasn’t able to participate in anything on campus because he had to just study and work. It is so important to give these young people the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities.

Steve: It feels good to know we are doing something. I look at the money we’re giving as a multiplier and synergistic. So it is not necessarily for one person, for a Sara or Bob—because we’ll be dead when the money is given out—but it’s growing in an endowment fund that’s helping many who would not have been able to go to college.

More reasons to give back

Steve: We have no children and, by default, we have no grandchildren. We could give our money to the government in taxes or we can ensure the future of Minnesota and the country.

Lori: When I was going to Carlson, I was using what I was learning immediately, and that was very powerful. I also grew up in a family where it was very, very important to not only get an education but to give back. I’ve always been a big contributor. Since Steve and I had roots in the U of M that seemed like a logical place.

Gopher pride

Lori: I’m very, very proud of the U of M, and I’m proud to be affiliated with it and I’m fortunate to be able to give to such a fine organization.

Steve: I’m the same. When you come out of the U of M, you have an education and employers know you had a rigorous schedule. That’s why you could get good money.

Learn how you can participate in CSE Annual Giving at z.umn.edu/AnnualAddsUp.

Story by Pauline Oo

If you’d like to support students and programs in the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering, visit our CSE Giving website.