Fund honoring beloved professor to support student enrichment experiences

Susan Burlingame
May 04, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Some 40 years after graduating from Penn State with a degree in political science, Maryann Friday Hunter decided to pay tribute to Professor Emeritus James Eisenstein, who had a profound impact on her life and career.

With a $25,000 commitment, Hunter endowed the James Eisenstein Enrichment Fund in Political Science to help students take advantage of the out-of-class experiences Eisenstein encouraged. Eisenstein spent 33 years as a political science professor in the College of the Liberal Arts, retiring in 2005.

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Maryann (Friday) Hunter, class of 1979, created a fund to help students and honor a favorite professor.

IMAGE: Britt Lechman

“Jim was the kind of professor who challenged you to think — to question your assumptions about right and wrong,” said Hunter, who retired in 2018 as deputy director for banking regulation and supervision at the U.S. Federal Reserve. “It was always evident that he cared deeply about students, especially undergraduates. As a young student, it’s not always easy to connect with a professor, but Jim always took an interest in his students and gave us guidance and advice. He encouraged me to do more than I thought I could do, and I really benefited from that.”

Hunter was part of a working group of students who conducted campaign finance analysis with Eisenstein in an office in Burrowes Building affectionately known as the “bat cave.” She also did an independent study supervised by Eisenstein and studied abroad in England. Initially interested in attending law school after graduation, Hunter took Eisenstein’s advice and instead entered a public policy master’s program at the University of Michigan — a decision that led to a 30-year career with the Fed.

“At some point, I realized that [Eisenstein] changed the course of my life,” said Hunter. “I had a successful career that I loved, I met my husband at Michigan, and we have a great family. It made me realize how important Jim was to me, so I wanted to do something to recognize and thank him.”

“I took a lot of flak for encouraging people not to go to law school,” joked Eisenstein, who each semester would don a three-piece suit and give a lecture called “Why You Shouldn’t Go to Law School and Throw Your Life Away.” “I just wanted political science students to know there were other options.”  

Noting he was honored that Hunter created the Eisenstein Enrichment Fund, Eisenstein said he was “even happier when I heard what it was for because it reflected some of the things I encouraged.”

“What I liked best in my career was the interaction with remarkable students,” he added. “There may have been a hundred of them like Maryann. Funny and bright and competent — it was such a pleasure to work with them.”

“Jim raised generations of political science students at Penn State,” said Lee Ann Banaszak, professor of political science. “He was always an innovator in undergraduate education and someone who cared deeply about students. I’ve been thinking about what the post-coronavirus [pandemic] world is going to look like, and, while we have always had students who need financial assistance, the James Eisenstein Enrichment Fund will allow us to expand our support of students in internships or study abroad.”

“As a teacher, Jim was always committed to inspiring his students to become politically and socially active citizens,” added Marie Hojnacki, acting head of the Department of Political Science. “The generous gift from Maryann Hunter, which will support students’ experiences outside the classroom, is a great tribute to Jim’s legacy.”

Hunter is a member of the Department of Political Science Board of Visitors and received the department’s 2016 Outstanding Alumni Award. Through the years, she has served as a mentor to Penn State liberal arts students and hosted interns at the Federal Reserve.

Remembering her own challenges with affording a study abroad experience, she decided to focus her philanthropy on an enrichment fund.

“My experience in Exeter, England, was one of the best I ever had,” she said, noting that she left her regular summer job to work in a steel mill in order to make enough money to go abroad. “I thought that making funds available to help students take advantage of that experience would continue what Jim brought to his undergraduate students. He wanted them to have practical experience through internships and study abroad.”

“I just wanted to give him some recognition for the impact he had on my life.”

To contribute to the James Eisenstein Enrichment Fund in Political Science, visit raise.psu.edu/EisensteinFund or contact Geoff Halberstadt, senior director of development in the College of the Liberal Arts, at glh5028@psu.edu.

The James Eisenstein Enrichment Fund in Political Science helps to 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 support from devoted alumni and friends like Maryann Hunter, who believe in Penn State and its mission, “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 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 greaterpennstate.psu.edu.

Last Updated May 06, 2020