Alumni couple makes $2 million gift to honor innovative teachers

October 05, 2012

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Good teachers can clearly explain topics to students, but great teachers inspire students and change lives. A Penn State alumni couple is honoring great teachers they have known by making a leadership gift to the colleges of the Liberal Arts and Education with a commitment of $2 million from their estate. Through their gift, Kevin and Susan O’Leary will support an early career professor in history, graduate students in language and literacy education, and innovative teaching awards in both colleges.

The O’Learys are owners of Sunrunner Alaska Corp. and founding partners in Alaskan Leader Fisheries, the largest and most successful longline fishing fleet and processor in the country. Both businesses are the top producers of Pacific cod in the Bering Sea to supply Asian and European customers. A 1971 history graduate, Kevin is one of the most successful independent business owners in Alaska. He helped facilitate major policy changes to maintain a competitive business environment balanced with sustainability and safety as a member of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, from 1995-2001.

A 1971 education graduate, Susan serves as treasurer and secretary for Sunrunner Alaska Corp. In addition, she taught school in Kodiak, Alaska, for 15 years and volunteered as a tutor. Currently, she is a volunteer tutor and mentor with a foster child program and tutors several students at the local elementary school when the couple is at their winter residence in Arizona.

''Our Penn State professor inspired us to pursue fulfilling careers in business and education, and in return, we want to uplift future generations of innovative teachers at the University,'' Kevin and Susan said. ''We are personally aware of the many challenges facing teachers today, and we want to help them pursue even greater success in teaching students at Penn State and beyond.''

Susan Welch, dean of the College of the Liberal Arts, said, ''We are very grateful for Kevin and Susan’s foresight and vision in making this gift. Our College has had many award-winning teachers over the decades, and thanks to the O’Learys’ generosity, this gift will allow us to support even more promising ideas in the classrooms. In addition, the history department now has valuable resources to compete for the best young faculty against the other top schools with which we compete. Such funds are often used by talented faculty to develop new courses or research projects involving undergraduates.''

David Monk, dean of the College of Education, noted, ''Thanks to Susan and Kevin, the College of Education will be able to recognize excellence in teaching in all areas of education. The gift will also support future graduate students who are pursuing research in vitally important areas like the teaching of reading and the impact of emerging technologies on how learners of all ages gain insights and acquire understanding. Susan and Kevin clearly understand the importance of education for the future of our nation, and we deeply appreciate their strong vote of confidence.''

Named a Penn State Alumni Fellow in 2007, Kevin O’Leary serves on the Liberal Arts Development Council. He and Susan have two sons, both proud employees of Sunrunner. The O’Learys have supported both colleges over the years, including the establishment of an undergraduate scholarship in memory of Kevin’s mother, who was a teacher until her retirement at age 72.

Kevin and Susan O’Leary are leading supporters of the current University-wide fundraising effort, For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students. The campaign is directed toward a shared vision of Penn State as the most comprehensive, student-centered research university in America. The University is engaging Penn State’s alumni and friends as partners in achieving six key objectives: ensuring student access and opportunity, enhancing honors education, enriching the student experience, building faculty strength and capacity, fostering discovery and creativity, and sustaining the University’s tradition of quality. The campaign’s top priority is keeping a Penn State degree affordable for students and families. The For the Future campaign is the most ambitious effort of its kind in Penn State’s history, with the goal of securing $2 billion by 2014.


  • Susan and Kevin O'Leary graduated from Penn State in 1971.

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated October 05, 2012