Millennium Scholars Program, philanthropy support student success in STEM

March 12, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Ana De La Fuente Duran, a self-described “science nerd” who was born in Monterrey, Mexico, and grew up in Pittsburgh, has long hoped to follow her love for science all the way to graduate school. With the support of the Penn State Millennium Scholars Program, a merit-based program designed to attract a diverse group of students, the Penn State junior has become one of a growing number of Penn State students who are on their way toward earning advanced degrees in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

“It can be challenging as a minority student to enter the STEM fields, where you don’t often meet people who share your background or look like you,” De La Fuente Duran said. “The Millennium Scholars Program has helped me navigate this journey by providing an academic and social space for friendships and support.”

Eberly College of Science alumnus Steve Mahle and his wife, Kathi Austin Mahle, recently became part of this support network with a $1 million commitment to endow the Mahle Millennium Scholars Program Scholarship in the Eberly College of Science, which will benefit students like De La Fuente Duran for years to come. The gift leveraged a 1:1 University match through the recently concluded Leadership Gift Scholarship Matching Program, ensuring that Millennium Scholars will ultimately benefit from $2 million in new endowed scholarship support.

Steve and Kathi Mahle

Steve and Kathi Mahle have made a $1 million commitment to endow the Mahle Millennium Scholars Program Scholarship in the Eberly College of Science.

IMAGE: Steve and Kathi Mahle

“Kathi and I have always believed that education is the single most powerful tool for enabling young people to reach their full potential, and we’re well aware of the fact that educational opportunities are not uniform,” said Steve. “We see this gift to the Millennium Scholars Program as an investment in students who may come from communities historically under-represented in the STEM fields, but who possess extraordinary potential to move these fields forward and to ultimately change the world for the better.”

Since 2013, the Millennium Scholars Program has helped high-achieving Penn State students from diverse backgrounds to succeed in the University’s STEM majors and build the foundation they will need for graduate school. The program assembles a concentration of high-achieving undergraduates in a tight-knit learning community in which students support, inspire and encourage one another to achieve these goals. Millennium Scholars benefit further from comprehensive academic programming, hands-on mentoring and advising, and robust financial support. The program began in the College of Engineering and the Eberly College of Science but today spans the colleges of Engineering, Science, Agricultural Sciences, Earth and Mineral Sciences, and Information Sciences and Technology.

Penn State has invested significant resources to launch the Millennium Scholars Program, but gifts from alumni and friends like the Mahles are needed to sustain and enhance the program into the future.

“The Millennium Scholars Program is positioning Penn State as a national leader in the effort to educate the next generation of STEM professionals, but achieving this vision will be possible only with philanthropic support,” said Nick Jones, Penn State’s executive vice president and provost. “With their generous gift, Steve and Kathi are helping to ensure that the Millennium Scholars Program can continue to support talented and ambitious students for many years to come.” 

Steve holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Beloit College (1967) and a master’s degree in physics from the Penn State Eberly College of Science (1969). He retired in 2009 after 37 years with medical equipment company Medtronic, a tenure that included posts as president of the firm’s cardiac rhythm disease management business and executive vice president in charge of governmental affairs. Kathi holds a bachelor’s degree in religious studies from Beloit College (1967) and a master of divinity from United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities (1978). She is a retired minister in the United Methodist Church.

The couple, who call Minneapolis home, support a range of higher education institutions through their philanthropy. They previously established the Stephen H. and Katherine Austin Mahle Trustee Scholarship in the Eberly College of Science, which supports students in the college with financial need. Beyond Penn State, the couple has established scholarships at Beloit College, Hamline University, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, and Africa University in Zimbabwe.

As the Mahles considered a gift to the Millennium Scholars Program last fall, they visited with Millennium Scholars Program staff and students, and those meetings solidified their decision.

“We were thoroughly impressed with the students’ enthusiasm, intelligence, curiosity, forceful personalities and willingness to help one another be successful,” said Kathi. “It was clear that there’s a lot of really great things going on in the Millennium Scholars Program.”

A group of Millennium Scholars test center of gravity with nails

The Millennium Scholars Program brings together high-achieving Penn State students from diverse backgrounds in a tight-knit learning community where students support and encourage one another to succeed in the University's science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors. 

IMAGE: Penn State

Steve and Kathi hope their gift to the Millennium Scholars Program will inspire other Penn Staters to step forward with their own commitments to educational equity and diversity in STEM. Amy Freeman, director of the program, shares this hope.

“The Millennium Scholars Program often represents the difference between whether a student makes it to graduation or not, and the program ensures that students are motivated to do great things and are ultimately inspired to give back,” said Freeman. “With their gift to the Millennium Scholars Program, Steve and Kathi have shown that they recognize the critical difference such programs make in students’ lives.”

As philanthropists focused on the impact and outcomes of their giving, Steve and Kathi look forward to watching Millennium Scholars graduate from Penn State and forge rewarding careers in STEM.

De la Fuente Duran, for one, is well-positioned to make the Mahles proud. Since becoming a Millennium Scholar her freshman year, she has excelled in her materials science and engineering major, founded her own Penn State student organization (Women in Materials Science), and completed a summer research fellowship at Stanford. While at Stanford, she discovered a passion for research on energy storage and conversion, an area which holds great promise for the renewable energy field and which she hopes to pursue in graduate school and beyond.

Ana de la Fuente Duran

Like all students in the Penn State Millennium Scholars Program, Ana De La Fuente Duran is engaged in scientific research as an undergraduate. 

IMAGE: Ana de la Fuente Duran

“I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved in my college career, but I couldn’t do it alone,” De La Fuente Duran said. “I am grateful to my fellow Millennium Scholars, to the Millennium Scholars Program staff, and to donors like Steve and Kathi Mahle who are willing to invest in such a worthwhile program. I hope to make all of these individuals proud through a career that will make a difference in the world.”

This gift will advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a twenty-first-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 15, 2019