For the Future campaign gives many the gift of a Penn State education

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- For Cierra Freeman, a 2012 graduate of Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) and the College of Agricultural Sciences, her Penn State education enabled her to rise above the challenges of the foster care system and “grow larger than the world’s expectations.”

Joshua Buitrago, a junior at the College of IST, was born to immigrant parents who instilled in him the value of education. While he was initially worried about the financial stress of getting through four years of college, a number of scholarships and grants have eased his family’s burden and enabled him to fulfill his potential. 

Freeman and Buitrago are just two of the many IST students and alumni who have received scholarships through Penn State’s For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students campaign, a $2.158 billion fund-raising effort fueled by the generosity of donors who understand the life-changing capabilities of a Penn State education. Overall, more than 603,000 donors made more than 2.1 million gifts to the historic University-wide effort, including approximately $519 million pledged for undergraduate student scholarships, the top priority of the campaign.

For the Future Campaign Closing

Students at Penn State's College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) reflect on how donors to the For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students have enabled them to pursue their dreams.

Freeman, who has degrees in IST, and community environment and development, did not have the benefit of family support while she was making decisions about her future. At the beginning of her junior year in high school, she was emancipated from her parents, became a ward of the state and was placed into the state foster care system.

“I was an excellent student because, to be honest, I used academics as an emotional outlet,” Freeman said. “As an independent, the world became an unchartered window of opportunity and a growing reminder of my socioeconomic status. Like most students, I had no idea what I wanted to do, what it meant to have a career, how to be successful, let alone what college to attend and if college was even on the horizon.”

Freeman said she was guided in her journey by her high school career counselor, Mrs. Betts. She told Freeman about Penn State and convinced her that she was “college worthy, academically ready and should share my story.”

Freeman’s educational expenses were aided by the Bunton-Waller Fellowship, Bell Family Trust and Mimi Coopersmith Scholarships.

Freeman, who is now an associate at PwC and lives in New York City, said that without the obstacles she faced, she would have become complacent.

“Without the reminder every day, that ‘I shouldn’t be here’ at this university, in this major, in this internship, in this part time job, in this dorm, in this safe space, I would have allowed all these opportunities pass me by. But, someone gave me a chance and asked to hear my story. I thank God for all the ears that he has leant me thus far, and I know now, I am exactly where I am supposed to be.”

Buitrago, who was born in Queens, N.Y., to Colombian-born parents but moved at an early age to Lancaster, Pa., said he has benefitted immensely from the generosity of donors to the For the Future campaign.

“Coming from a lower income family, financing college was one of the biggest obstacles we were going to face,” he said.

Buitrago’s parents had no American education or any knowledge of how American universities work, he said, and he did not have older siblings who could guide him in the process. His original plan was to enroll in a two-year college, then transfer to a four-year university to complete his degree.

“Luckily, a very close family friend who works in the technology field scorned me for the plan I had in mind,” Buitrago said. “He said, ‘Go to the best state school in your state. Go to Penn State and major in technology.’”

While Buitrago receives funding from a number of scholarships/grants, he said, his most valued donation is the Haile Family Trustee Scholarship from Don and Mary Haile. Don Haile, an IST Advisory Board member, is a retired executive formerly involved in information technology development and services.

“Through the generous donations of others, I was able to go to one of the top universities in my state at an affordable price,” Buitrago said. “My family and I owe everything we have to the great education and opportunities this college provides.”

On June 30, 2014, Penn State will officially end the For the Future campaign, the most significant fundraising effort in the University’s history. Penn State is one of only 12 public universities in the nation to have exceeded a $2 billion campaign goal, receiving support from 167,500 alumni, believed to be the most alumni donors to any campaign in the country.

While the College of IST is a relatively small college, Dean David Hall said, it has played an instrumental role in the campaign, raising $34 million during the seven-year campaign and far surpassing its goal of $18 million. IST has been able to award a total of $307,602 in scholarships and create a number of Trustee Matching Scholarships, which maximize the impact of private giving while directing funds to students as quickly as possible, meeting the urgent need for scholarship support.

“The funds for IST included scholarships, in-kind gifts of software and data, funds for innovation, and funding to support young faculty members,” Hall said. “These gifts will provide financial assistance for undergraduate and graduate students, provide opportunities for enhanced classroom and research experiences for both undergraduates and graduates, and provide opportunities for new research in areas such as enterprise architecture and cyber security.”

Major gifts to the College of IST included a donation of cloud-based risk and analytics cyber security service valued at $11.75 million from Tripwire Inc., a leading global provider of risk-based security and compliance management solutions. This is the largest gift to the College of IST in its history.

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Last Updated May 15, 2014