“My Mom was an incredible optimist,” says John Jarve. “It was a blessing to live in a household where your mother is always positive, the glass is always half full, and things are going to get better no matter how bad they are.”

Jarve’s father, an alcoholic, died when he was 12. His mother died when he was 16. He began receiving $110 a month in Social Security benefits and $40 a month from the Veterans Administration, and soon after, left Martin’s Ferry, Ohio, a coal mining and steel town where he was raised, for Northern Ohio to live with his older sister, a newlywed.

“As a kid, I was like a sponge. I had an incredible hunger for knowledge and was willing to work very hard to get ahead,” says Jarve, a great student who loved calculus. When a guidance counselor encouraged him to apply to MIT, he says: “I never had even heard of MIT.” He flipped open a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica and looked it up. Soon after, he was accepted to the Institute.

Tough and resilient

“I felt extremely fortunate to get a great financial package that enabled me to attend MIT,” he says. “When you go through what I went through, you do develop a certain amount of toughness and resiliency. You grow up a lot faster and really want to succeed. At MIT, I wanted to get a great education that could make a difference in my life. I learned to work hard and become resourceful.”

Jarve — along with his wife Jacque — established a scholarship at MIT. “Our goal is to enable students to have the same great experience that I had and to provide funds for them. There are lots of kids just like me, who cannot attend MIT without financial support,” he says, adding that their dream is for those students to one day support scholarships themselves so even more students can study at the Institute.

“MIT students have a tremendous ability to greatly influence the world — whether it’s developing projects or inventions that change the world or raising great kids who change the world. I do feel that every MIT student can make a difference,” he says.

A venture capitalist for the past 26 years, Jarve earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from MIT in 1978. Then he earned an MBA from Stanford.

Early on, he worked as an engineer at Draper Labs before a stint in a laser lab at Massachusetts General Hospital. In 1983, he joined Intel, working on marketing for software products and development tools. Two years later, he joined Menlo Ventures as an associate, then a partner, and is now a managing director, leading the company’s investments in more than 50 portfolio companies in the areas of communications, storage, and Internet technologies.

An MIT Corporation member, Jarve is also a member of the Institute’s Corporation Development Committee and serves on two MIT Visiting Committees.

A changed life

“MIT changed my life in many ways,” he says. “It gave me unbelievable career options, ones I never would have had otherwise. And it enabled me to reach my full potential. We hope our support can help other students reach their full potential.”

The couple is eager to support MIT’s need-blind admissions program, which makes it possible for qualified students to attend the Institute regardless of their ability to pay. “MIT aims to get the best and brightest students, give them a fantastic education, and enable them to have better lives. I’d be devastated if the need-blind admissions policy at MIT ever changed.”

In many ways, Jarve is now a long distance from Northern Ohio and the life he long ago left behind.

He lives in Atherton, California, with his wife, whom he met when both worked at Intel, and they have two children, both students at Stanford. “I am a joyful person,” he says. “I have a great marriage, wonderful kids, I love my job, and love the people I work with.”

Another thing makes him happy, too. “The greatest pleasure of being a donor is meeting the students who receive our scholarship,” he says. “To me, that’s just one of the most enjoyable things about giving. Making the personal connection and hearing the benefits of our support
is a wonderful experience.”