This past week was an exciting one at Ursinus as we applauded a confluence of generous gifts that total nearly $10 million. The news was especially gratifying because of the inspirations behind the gifts and the fact that in several cases students already are reaping the benefits.
One of the four gifts announced last week was the single largest outright gift in the history of the College. It honors the personalized education that is an Ursinus hallmark and will enable us to further strengthen our flagship science programs. The $5 million gift from Phoenixville resident John F. (Jack) Rodenbaugh, Class of 1955, and his wife, Patricia, honors Professor James L. Boswell, former Chair of the Economics Department (now the Business and Economics Department).
At Ursinus, the transformational effect that faculty have on students is legendary. We constantly receive testimonial e-mails and hear anecdotes about how Ursinus faculty has changed lives. Our 2013 commencement speaker, writer Sam Keen, Class of 1952, spoke of the influence his Ursinus history teacher had on his finding his calling.
In turn, Mr. Rodenbaugh was encouraged by Dr. Boswell, who retired in 1961, to attend graduate school, but he was drafted and headed off to serve his country. He went on to a distinguished business career, retiring as Vice President of Banking, Finance and Economics from Merrill Lynch. He said he never got to thank Dr. Boswell, and this gift is his thank you. The gift will be used for the planned Discovery and Innovation Center, an interdisciplinary curriculum that will connect multifaceted science programs to the entire campus. What a tribute to a faculty mentor who touched a student sixty years ago.
A gift to the Berman Museum from The Philip and Muriel Berman Foundation also stems from the College’s impact on its students. Muriel Berman, who with her husband, Philip, was the founding benefactor to the museum, said they had envisioned a museum that “would enhance the lives of students and faculty.” In turn, daughter Nancy Berman said that her parents imagined that both the museum and the campus-wide sculpture garden “would enhance the quality of life and creative sensibilities of every member of the Ursinus community.”
Indeed it has. And now the Foundation which has seen fit to convert the Berman art collection that has been on loan to the College into a permanent gift to Ursinus, is generously giving the College cash and art valued at several million dollars. To honor this gift, students in this fall’s Museum Studies course have had the remarkable experience of selecting pieces for the “A to Z: Highlighting the Berman Collection” exhibition they are curating. The exhibition opens Oct. 20.
We are also very excited about the pending purchase of acreage from the Northern Star Farm and Dairy in Collegeville, which will be dedicated to field research in biological and environmental science as well as interdisciplinary courses from other majors. The purchase will be underwritten by a $225,000 gift from Donald Whittaker, Class of 1977, along with his brother Andrew, sister Elizabeth Magrann, and other contributors to a memorial fund that honors his parents, the late Shurley Knaefler Whittaker Josephson, Class of 1949, and Robert L. Whittaker. Additionally Mr. Whittaker has proposed an additional gift for the renovation of the on-site barn in memory of his late partner, Juan E. Molina.
The farm has hosted research by our biology and environmental studies faculty, but the addition of this land will enhance opportunities for the experiential education we seek to offer our students. For example, Dr. Corey Straub in Biology hopes to further investigate plant and insect interactions in a field-based laboratory. The environmental studies faculty plans to use the property to deepen its land use and stewardship emphases in the curriculum.
Another important gift has energized students this fall. An entrepreneurial program called U-Innovate is sponsoring a business plan competition to inspire future entrepreneurs. It was launched recently with a logo and slogan contest. The contest and the competition are supported by a six-figure gift from Will Abele, Class of 1961. Business competition winners will receive significant cash awards. The competition will be repeated over the next two years. The U-Innovate program includes speakers, mentors and workshops designed to create a campus culture where liberal education and development of an entrepreneurial mindset are intertwined.
Each piece of wonderful news deserves its own column, and more will be said in the coming months as the programs supported by these gifts take root and grow. But for now, let us enjoy the momentum and appreciate the work of our Advancement Office.
This extraordinary spate of recent philanthropy was sparked by the personalized education we have long offered at Ursinus College. Alumni and donors want to honor this tradition and to further enhance that experience for future students.
As we begin to plan for a comprehensive campaign, these gifts will certainly add energy and momentum to our efforts. We are a community that promotes altruism through living out the Ursinus mission each day. Let’s celebrate our common cause.