With latest gifts, Chaikens become Liberal Arts’ largest-ever donors

Susan Burlingame
September 28, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Gene and Roz Chaiken have been making philanthropic gifts to the College of the Liberal Arts for five decades. Last evening (Sept. 28) following a virtual gift-signing ceremony, hosted by Penn State President Eric Barron and Molly Barron, the Chaikens officially became the largest donors in the history of the college.

With their signatures and a substantial gift, the Chaikens established the Roz and Gene Chaiken Center for Student Success in the College of the Liberal Arts. Designed to help students who are experiencing challenges beyond the financial, the Chaiken Center will help shepherd students toward degree completion by connecting them to existing University resources and developing a robust programming portfolio of academic recovery activities, student success coaching, and cohort building.

During the virtual signing ceremony, the Chaikens surprised President Barron as well as Clarence Lang, Susan Welch Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts, by announcing an additional gift — a significant commitment, through a charitable gift annuity, to the couple’s Trustee Scholarship fund. The Chaikens made a similar gesture when Lang first joined the college in July 2019.

“Gene and Roz Chaiken are very special people,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “They give and give again to support Gene’s beloved alma mater and Roz’s adopted one. From humble beginnings themselves, they have always cared about making a difference in students’ lives, and their latest gifts extend that commitment. Penn State is fortunate to have such generous, devoted benefactors.”

Saying they are happy to have found another way to support students in the college, the Chaikens were quick to point out that the idea for the new Chaiken Center for Student Success was not their own.

“We can’t take the credit for the idea,” said Roz. “It was totally Clarence Lang’s brainchild.”

“We weren’t really thinking about making another gift,” added Gene. “But the dean came to us wanting to find a way to help students who are struggling, and we were glad to be able to help. The circumstances many students are facing because of the pandemic magnified the need.”

The Chaikens began their philanthropic legacy at Penn State in the 1980s. Their gifts have included endowing a chair in Jewish Studies along with Gene’s brother, Sheldon, and his wife, Gail; establishing a Jewish Studies Director’s Fund; and creating the Chaiken Centennial Graduate Endowment in Honor of Dean Susan Welch (former dean of the college) and the Chaiken Endowment for the Study of the Holocaust.

Perhaps most significantly, the Chaikens endowed two Trustee Scholarships — the Gene and Roz Chaiken Trustee Scholarship in 2008 and the Chaiken Family Trustee Scholarship in 2013. Together, the scholarships have thus far provided more than $5.3 million in tuition assistance to 645 students. Approximately 100 “Chaiken scholars” receive funding each year, maintaining the funding through all four years of their Penn State education provided they remain students in good standing. Chaiken scholars have an average GPA of 3.53.

Both from middle class families, Gene and Roz said they were inspired by their fathers to be philanthropic. Gene’s father demonstrated his generosity early on when he turned down a scholarship for Gene’s brother, Sheldon, so it could go to someone less fortunate. Roz’s father was head of Almo Corporation, where Gene now serves as board chair and Roz serves as executive vice president. Generous to his employees and others who fell on hard times, Roz’s father often gave more away than he earned in a year.

“I had the example of my father and then was also inspired by my father-in-law to give back,” said Gene, adding that the couple’s motto is “helping people is a privilege, not a chore.”

And for them, “helping people” has meant making Penn State, and especially Penn State students, their philanthropic priority.

“Penn State changed my life. It made me who I am,” said Gene. “My best friends, even today, are my fraternity brothers from my Penn State days.”

Gene has been an active alumnus, serving as a governor’s nonvoting representative to the Penn State Board of Trustees from 2003 to 2005 and then as a trustee from 2005 to 2010. He is an emeritus member of the College of the Liberal Arts Development Council and was named a Penn State Alumni Fellow in 2004 and a Distinguished Alumnus in 2013. In 2009, he was awarded the College of the Liberal Arts Sparks Centennial Medal for Outstanding Service. In 2013, the college created and presented Gene and Roz with the inaugural Chaiken Leadership Award, which annually recognizes an alumnus, friend, or couple for outstanding generosity and philanthropic leadership.

“Penn State was really my happy place growing up,” added Roz. “I visited Gene just about every other weekend, and I saw how important Penn State was to him, which made it very special to me. And it grew in importance for me as my life went on, especially as I realized how important it is for students to get an education but how hard it is for them to afford it -- some having to work two and three jobs just to stay in school.”

“Gene and Roz Chaiken are great champions of the college, and I am humbled and thrilled that they have seen fit to make yet another philanthropic gift,” said Lang. “From my first day as dean, I have witnessed their generous spirit as well as their uncompromising desire to help first-generation students and those from working-class backgrounds afford a Penn State liberal arts education. With this new gift to create the Chaiken Center for Student Success, they are taking their generosity to a new level by giving students a place where their other needs will be met: mental health, a cohort of peers, academic support, and more. I am deeply grateful to Gene and Roz, and I am not at all surprised that they are now the largest benefactors in the history of the college.”

“My hope is that the new center will help guide students over the rough waters so they can graduate, go out into the world and do good things, and hopefully someday give back to Penn State themselves,” said Gene.

The Chaikens’ gifts help 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 benefactors like Gene and Roz Chaiken, 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.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated September 29, 2020