Penn State alumni to endow Child Study Center in College of the Liberal Arts

Susan Burlingame
October 03, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Arnold “Arn” Hoffman and Bette Gichner were Penn State students in the 1950s when an informal gathering in the courtyard of Thompson Hall gave them the opportunity to meet for the first time.

“Maybe it was because I like blondes,” joked Arn Hoffman, or maybe it was just meant to be, but something sparked a conversation between Arn and Bette (now) Hoffman that resulted in a lifetime of commitment — to each other and to their mutual alma mater. Arn Hoffman graduated in 1957 with a degree in journalism, and Bette Hoffman graduated in 1958 with a degree in home economics. They were married in 1959. Sixty years later, the University is celebrating a new $1 million gift from the Hoffmans to the Penn State Child Study Center in the College of the Liberal Arts.

“Arn and Bette are terrific examples of the life-long relationships that we see form time and time again at Penn State,” said Rich Bundy, vice president for development and alumni relations. “We are fortunate indeed — and grateful! — that the lives of these two wonderful individuals intersected at Penn State those many years ago, and that the shared love for their alma mater they have cultivated over their lifetime together has resulted in such a generous and thoughtful investment in our bright future.”

The Hoffmans are longtime volunteer leaders and two of Penn State’s most generous benefactors. They have made contributions to a variety of Penn State people and programs, including undergraduate and graduate students, the Palmer Museum (art glass collection), the Department of Sociology (professorship), the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center, the Hintz Family Alumni Center, the Jewish Studies program, and much more. Arn Hoffman has served as a presidential counselor and chair of the Hillel Campaign. In 1998, he was named the inaugural chair of the Liberal Arts Development Council; he served on the council until April 2019. Penn State honored him as an Alumni Fellow in 1997 and as a Distinguished Alumnus in 2007. Both are members of the Laurel Circle of the Mount Nittany Society.

In 2012, the Hoffmans made a $2 million estate commitment to endow the directorship of the Penn State Child Study Center. Recently, they added $1 million to that commitment in order to endow the center, which will one day be named the Arnold S. and Bette G. Hoffman Child Study Center.

Housed in the Department of Psychology in the College of the Liberal Arts, the Child Study Center is dedicated to integrating research, education, and community outreach to promote children’s development and well-being. Led by Karen Bierman, Evan Pugh University Professor and professor of psychology and human development and family studies, the center became a philanthropic focus for the Hoffmans for a variety of reasons.

“Karen Bierman and her colleagues are doing amazing work,” said Arn Hoffman, noting that their gifts support both Liberal Arts and Health and Human Development, the colleges where the Hoffmans studied as undergraduates.

“The Hoffmans are passionate supporters of education and research that can help improve the lives of children and families,” noted Bierman. “Their support of the Child Study Center through the years has been instrumental in helping the center grow and extend its reach to more families, schools and communities. We are so grateful for this amazing new gift, which will sustain and expand our mission and support future generations of students and families.”

“We wanted to create a legacy [through this gift],” said Arn Hoffman. “We’re not necessarily comfortable with having our name on things, but if it can spur someone else to give, then it’s worth it.”

The Hoffmans began their philanthropic legacy years ago when they made small gifts to their synagogue and to other causes in the Philadelphia area where they resided. Their first gift to Penn State, a scholarship to help Abington Township (Montgomery County, Pennsylvania) students afford a Penn State education, was sparked by a phone call from Mimi Barash Coppersmith, former Penn State trustee and co-founder of the State College-based advertising and publishing firm, Barash Media. Barash urged the Hoffmans to take advantage of a scholarship matching program.

“That’s when it all started,” said Bette Hoffman. “It just grew from there.”

More than 60 years after graduating from Penn State, the Hoffmans, who recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, said they have made Penn State a philanthropic priority because they have “nothing but happy memories — before, during and after we were students.” Arn Hoffman said his proudest Penn State moment was when he served as the College of the Liberal Arts commencement speaker in 1999.

“The truth is, we are just proud Penn Staters.”

“Arnold and Bette Hoffman have been extraordinarily generous benefactors of the College of the Liberal Arts and of Penn State more generally,” said Clarence Lang, Susan Welch Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts. “Their desire to name the Child Study Center speaks to the rich legacy they have built at this university, and it cements groundbreaking scholarly research, teaching and public service in the field of child and family development in a manner that reflects the best of our land-grant mission.”

The Hoffman’s gift advances "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 like Arn and Bette Hoffman, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hard-working 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 greaterpennstate.psu.edu.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated October 15, 2019