What's In A Name? A Lot If That Name Is 'Sombrilla'


During UTSA’s 50th anniversary celebration, many in the Roadrunner community were inspired by stories about the university’s development and the remarkable individuals who transformed the vision for UTSA into reality.

One that truly resonated was “The Sombrilla Story” - a short video interview with Milton Babbitt, principal architect for Ford, Powell, and Carson, the San Antonio firm that designed UTSA’s Main Campus. While it was famed architect O’Neil Ford’s idea to include a large gathering place in the center of campus, Babbitt was tasked with conceptualizing the space that ultimately became known as Sombrilla Plaza.


It is unclear who chose the name, which in Spanish means “umbrella,” but it wasn’t long before it was appropriated for other uses. Today, the term “Sombrilla” has become integral to UTSA, naming the Sombrilla Plaza, Sombrilla Fountain, Sombrilla Magazine, and Sombrilla Society, each with its own special place in UTSA’s history.

Since the John Peace Library opened in 1975, students, faculty, staff and visitors alike have been drawn to its adjoining plaza, which Babbitt describes as the “nicest non-building I ever designed,” by the welcoming shade of the umbrella-like canopy and the soothing sounds of the fountain that has become perhaps the most distinctive landmark on campus. Superstition says that if you touch the Sombrilla Fountain wall during finals week, good grades on your exams are sure to follow.

While the Sombrilla name originated with the plaza, it also seemed perfect for the university magazine that debuted almost 40 years ago. Jane Burton, whose many contributions to the university over 33 years are legendary, recalls sitting in a meeting with other members of the University Development staff when they chose the name for the new publication. “That was the focal point of the campus, the Sombrilla,” Burton noted. “So it wasn’t even an epiphany. We’ve just got to do it, we said.”

Along the way, the name was also chosen for one of the university’s first giving societies. Today, the Sombrilla Society is an exceptional organization composed of some of the most forward-thinking, generous members of the UTSA community, and it is only appropriate that the organization carries the iconic name.

In a 1999 edition of the Sombrilla Magazine, a university supporter said, "There are individuals and couples among us who are as farsighted in their thinking as they are generous in their souls. The Sombrilla Society celebrates these individuals. The gifts they have made from their estate plans will assure the future of UTSA.”


Senior Executive Director of Gift Planning, Kimberly West, serves as the society's primary lead and says, "It is an honor for me to visit with the generous individuals who comprise today’s Sombrilla Society, thanking them for entrusting their legacies in an academic institution that in 50 short years has grown from only a dream to one of the largest, most innovative public universities in Texas. To believe in the university’s future and commit to its continued success takes great passion."