Stephen J. Cloobeck ’83 says his Brandeis studies in neuroscience and psychology helped lead to his remarkable business achievements. Now the former CEO and chairman of Diamond Resorts International is donating $1 million that will aid Brandeisians’ efforts to shed light on human intelligence.
Cloobeck’s gift will support research by two faculty members who were his mentors at Brandeis: University Professor Eve Marder ’69, the Victor and Gwendolyn Beinfield Professor of Neuroscience, and Arthur Wingfield, the Nancy Lurie Marks Professor Emeritus of Neuroscience. Both are affiliated with the Benjamin and Mae Volen National Center for Complex Systems, a Brandeis research facility dedicated to the study of the brain and intelligence.
Marder’s research on small neural circuits found in lobsters and crabs has revolutionized understanding of the fundamental nature of neuronal circuit operation, including how neuromodulators control behavioral outputs and how the stability of circuits is maintained over time. Wingfield’s studies focus on the effects of hearing loss on memory problems during the aging process.
In the early 1980s, when Cloobeck was a Brandeis undergraduate pursuing independent studies toward a degree in biopsychology, Marder and Wingfield were his thesis advisers. (They later married, which Cloobeck jokingly takes credit for.)
Marder and Wingfield hope to put a portion of Cloobeck’s gift toward travel grants that enable undergraduate neuroscience students to present at national and international conferences.
“Stephen Cloobeck’s generosity will enable our researchers to develop new lines of investigation while also including more undergraduates in this innovative research,” says President Ron Liebowitz. “We are grateful to him for this gift, which will strengthen our unique academic ecosystem and advance an important part of our mission.”
Cloobeck founded Diamond Resorts International, a timeshare hospitality company headquartered in Las Vegas. He was also the inaugural chairman of Brand USA, a government nonprofit that promotes travel to the U.S. He is widely recognized for his appearances on the television show “Undercover Boss.”
He says he is “100%” sure the skills he honed during his neuroscience and psychology studies contributed to his business successes: “If not for Brandeis, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today. It all comes back to Eve and Art.”
Dyslexia also played a part, he says. Although he didn’t know it as an undergraduate, Cloobeck later discovered he is highly dyslexic. His learning disability forces him to look at things differently, to think outside the box.
“If you look at some of the most successful dyslexics, they’re all entrepreneurs,” says Cloobeck, who built Diamond Resorts International into the world’s second-largest timeshare company, with 30,000 employees at more than 400 properties in 33 countries.
Cloobeck has donated proceeds from his 2018 book “Checking In: Hospitality-Driven Thinking, Business and You” to dyslexia research and education.
Now his gift to Brandeis will contribute to a greater understanding of the workings of human intelligence.
“It’s terrific,” says Wingfield. “I called him to say thank you, and he said, ‘No, thank you!’”
Says Marder, “How wonderful it has been to reengage with Stephen after 38 years, to get to know him not only as a student but in the fullness of his adult life.”
Cloobeck hopes research supported by his gift will aid in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease, which was the focus of his Brandeis thesis and afflicted his own father.
He also hopes his gift will encourage fellow alumni to step up. “Give whatever you can give,” he urges. “Remember your roots and who enabled you to do what you’re doing today. Take care of the people who taught you everything.”