Television legend Donald P. Bellisario endows College of Communications

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.—Donald P. Bellisario, a 1961 Penn State graduate and the creator of programs that changed the landscape of American television, has made one of the largest gifts in the history of the University. The acclaimed writer, producer and director of shows such as "Magnum P.I.," "Quantum Leap" and "NCIS" has committed $30 million to support communications students and faculty and to establish the state-of-the-art Donald P. Bellisario Media Center. Bellisario’s commitment was announced today (April 21) following a Board of Trustees meeting in which the board expressed its appreciation by renaming the college the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.

“Donald P. Bellisario ranks among Penn State’s most accomplished alumni, and his achievements and generosity will continue to inspire our students and faculty for generations to come,” said Penn State President Eric J. Barron. “Through this historic gift, the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications will have the resources to support future media pioneers as they pursue the same innovation, excellence and integrity that have characterized Don’s own career.”

Bellisario, born during the Great Depression in western Pennsylvania, launched his remarkable career after graduating from Penn State. Bellisario first enrolled in 1953 but left to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps. He returned four years later with his young family, earned his degree in journalism, and worked for the Centre Daily Times.

After graduation, Bellisario built a reputation as an innovator and leader in advertising. After rising to the rank of senior vice president of the famous Bloom Agency, he made the leap, during the mid-1970s, to Hollywood. There he became a hit maker whose creations included "Magnum P.I.," "JAG," "Airwolf," "Quantum Leap" and "NCIS."

Bellisario’s work has been honored with the prestigious Edgar Allan Poe writing award and multiple Emmy nominations. He was also named 2001 Producer of the Year by the Caucus for Producers, Writers and Directors. He was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2004.

Bellisario was named a Distinguished Alumnus, the highest honor offered by Penn State, in 2001. He holds an honorary doctorate of arts from Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania. He has also been honored with the Marine Corps Scholarship Fund Globe and Anchor Award in 2002 and the Red Cross Spirit Award.

With his wife, Vivienne, Bellisario established a tradition of visionary support at Penn State, including one of the largest gifts ever made through the Trustee Matching Scholarship Program. In 2006, the couple endowed the Donald P. Bellisario Trustee Scholarship with a $1 million commitment. They have continued to support the fund over the years, with about 350 past and current recipients. Many recipients have been, like Bellisario, veterans or active-duty service members. Bellisario has also donated important materials from his career, including scripts and video, for use in classes.

“The success Don Bellisario has achieved makes all of us aspire to be greater ourselves,” said Dean Marie Hardin. “And the investment that he has already made in our college and our students has helped inspire a vision that this unprecedented gift will empower us to fulfill.”

The Bellisarios’ new $30 million commitment — one of the top five largest gifts ever received by the University — will allow the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications to build on its reputation as one of the best programs of its kind in the nation. At the heart of the gift is a scholarship fund for communications students, with first preference given to undergraduates who are U.S. military veterans, active-duty service members, reservists and members of the National Guard.

President Barron said, “Don Bellisario is one of our greatest examples of how military experience and a Penn State education can prepare students for lifetimes of success and service. The Bellisario scholarship funds, paired with an investment by the University, will allow countless students to follow in his footsteps.”

The Bellisarios’ gift will also create an endowment to be directed toward the innovative programs and faculty leadership that will, according to Hardin, “cement the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications as the national leader.” The funds will help support the college’s programs to offer undergraduates “real-world” work experience, along with internships and residential programs in media markets elsewhere in the country.  

Hardin said, “In the fast-moving fields of media and journalism, the greatest advantage we can give our students is hands-on experience, as they learn from faculty who are themselves leaders and game-changers. Thanks to the Bellisarios’ unsurpassed generosity, we will be able to create more opportunities on campus and in places such as Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, for our students to interact with top professionals.”  

Thanks to the Bellisario commitment, plans are also underway to create the Donald P. Bellisario Media Center in Willard Building. This cutting-edge facility will house the college’s state-of-the-art television studios, its growing digital media agencies, student-media operations, and space for film and video creation. The University will also invest in the renovation, which is expected to begin in 2018. The new landmark facility will be housed near the Carnegie Building, where the college is based.

“It is fitting that the Donald P. Bellisario Media Center and the Carnegie Building will together form the home of the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications,” said Rich Bundy, vice president for development and alumni relations. “Andrew Carnegie was among the most important early philanthropist to the University, and as we begin a new campaign, 'A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,' Don and Vivienne Bellisario are setting the standard and leading the way for the next great era in Penn State philanthropy.”

At the announcement event, Bellisario himself encouraged his fellow Penn Staters to share in his ambition for the University. “It is an honor to give my support and name to the College of Communications,” he said. “Under the guidance of Dean Marie Hardin, these new facilities, faculty chairs and student scholarships will assure there is no limit to what future graduates of the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications can achieve.”

Last Updated April 23, 2017