'82, Engineering Technology
After his freshman year as an engineering major, Marty Colombatto decided to give school a break. He dropped out of the University of Utah and worked as an electrician for the next two years.
“I enjoyed technology and engineering but I also enjoyed working with my hands. I enjoyed working outdoors,” Colombatto says.
It was an invaluable life experience that led him back to higher education.
“After two years, I was starting to top out on the learning curve. After working in subzero temperatures for a couple of winters, the whole luster of working outside kind of wore off,” he says.
Colombatto began researching engineering programs in Southern California, where he was born and had family, and discovered Cal Poly Pomona and its learn-by-doing philosophy. He majored in engineering technology, which he describes as “the perfect blend of theory and application.”
As he considered his options after graduation in 1982, Colombatto thought he was headed for a career in engineering design. However, an adjunct professor who also worked at General Dynamics suggested that Colombatto explore the business side of the industry because of his extroverted personality. Taking the faculty member’s advice, Colombatto’s first job was in district sales at Texas Instruments, and he later worked as a software engineer for Reliance Electric in Switzerland, where he met his wife, Stefanie.
The 1990s were a great time for telecommunications, and start-ups were sprouting up everywhere. In 1987, he joined LSI Logic, a semiconductor company that pioneered the field of custom integrated circuits. For LSI, Colombatto managed sales organizations in North America and Europe. In 1996, he moved to Broadcom, a start-up that had just 50 employees but was already leading the technological evolution from analog to digital for a variety of high-growth communication markets.
“These were crazy times but good times,” Colombatto says. “They say a rising tide floats all boats, and I was very fortunate to be one of the boats on that rising tide. The past 30 years have been a great time to be in high technology, and it’s going to be a great time to be in high technology for the next – who knows – 30, 50 years and beyond.”
As vice president and general manager of Broadcom’s Networking Business Unit, Colombatto helped the company become the fastest in the semiconductor industry to achieve $1 billion in sales. Broadcom was one of the most successful IPOs in 1998 and remains a leader in the field with about $7 billion in annual revenue and 9,000 employees. Colombatto later took on the position of chairman and CEO of Staccato Communications, a leading supplier of Ultra Wideband silicon and software solutions.
A couple of years ago, Colombatto returned to campus for a tour of his alma mater. It was a memorable visit, yet too familiar. Surprised to see students using the same instruments that he used during his undergraduate years, he donated $100,000 to the College of Engineering to buy new lab equipment.
In February, the college dedicated the Colombatto Family Laboratory, which features 70 new pieces of equipment on 14 workbenches. It is the most up-to-date and easily the most popular laboratory among students in engineering technology and electrical and computer engineering.
“Cal Poly Pomona has a world-class engineering program, and the students deserve to be working with state-of-the-art equipment. This was kind of a natural way, a good fit for us to give back to this institution that gave me so much,” says Colombatto, who attended the dedication ceremony with his wife and parents.
Because of its emphasis on hands-on learning, Cal Poly Pomona’s educational model is more expensive than at other universities that rely more on lectures and theory. State funding for higher education has not provided for the level of equipment that students and faculty need, says university President Michael Ortiz. The university counts on donors such as Colombatto and his family to ensure that future generations have access to a quality education.
“It’s impossible for us to [stay current] without the assistance and kind gifts from alumni and industry,” Ortiz says. “This is going to have a significant impact not only on the students who will benefit from it but also on the faculty and what they are able to do with the students.”
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