Frank Capra was one of the most prominent directors in Hollywood during the 1930s and 1940s, when he won three Academy Awards for Best Director. Thematically, Capra was famous for churning out patriotic films that celebrated the virtues of an everyman who selflessly combatted insurmountable odds for the good of the community. His most-beloved films, many of which were made during the Great Depression, included "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" and "It’s a Wonderful Life." Undoubtedly, Capra's streak of patriotism was connected to his hardscrabble days as a young immigrant from Italy. As a child in the United States, Capra spent his days in poverty and had to take up odd jobs while still in school to help bolster the family's meager income. His rags-to-riches story has led film historians such as Ian Freer to consider him the "American Dream personified." Before his death in 1991, Capra received numerous awards and honors for his work in the film industry, such as the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award in 1982.
In 1915, Capra graduated from high school and entered the Throop College of Technology, which later became known as the California Institute of Technology, or more simply Caltech. Though his own family pressured him to drop out of school and take a job, Capra refused, knowing that higher education was the road that led to his shot at the American dream. At Caltech, Capra studied chemical engineering, working odd jobs to help pay for the school's annual tuition of $250. When his father was killed in an accident during his sophomore year, Capra feared his college experience would be over. However, the young man’s enthusiasm and dedication had not gone unnoticed by university leaders. As Capra explained, "the good officials of Caltech loaned me the tuition fees for my last three college years, so that—out of my sundry jobs—I could send Mama 90 simoleons a month while finishing school.” In 1918, after completing his senior thesis, "Conductivity of Picric Acid and its Salts," Capra graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering.
Though he traded his chemistry books for Hollywood cameras, Capra maintained close ties with his alma mater all his life. After the Caltech community learned of his passing in 1991, the university's Vice President, Thomas W. Anderson, remarked how Capra had "been involved in one way or another with Caltech since he arrived as a freshman in 1915." His service to his alma mater included sitting on various committees and donating generously to the university. In 1972, Capra gave the school his 14-acre ranch in Fallbrook, California. Today the area, with its manicured gardens and citrus groves paths, is used by student research groups, school trustees, and even scientists at Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Lab, who continue to benefit from one man's struggle to make the world a far better place.