Bellisario College faculty, staff endow educational equity scholarship

November 12, 2020

The daughter of an immigrant family who grew up in the Midwest, a native of Nigeria who came to Penn State by way of Washington, D.C., a first-generation alumnus, and a lifelong Pennsylvania resident are among a group of faculty and staff who have combined resources to create the Bellisario College Faculty and Staff Educational Equity Scholarship.

The group that made contributions for the recent gift to Penn State includes two deans, two current faculty members, a retired faculty member and two staff members from the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.

With their diverse backgrounds and responsibilities, they represent a quintessential group to support such an endeavor. Dean Marie Hardin provided the lead gift for the $110,000 effort, which also drew support from Associate Dean Anthony Olorunnisola, faculty members Ann Marie Major and Katie O’Toole, faculty member emeritus John Nichols, and staff members Jose Lugaro and Colette Rodger. The total includes an equal match by the University as part of a now completed incentive program.

“Penn State is world-class institution. When underrepresented students make it here through hard work and by overcoming whatever other circumstances, they still face some economic realities,” said Olorunnisola, the Bellisario College’s associate dean for graduate programs and research. He’s been at the University since 1994, after earning his doctorate at Howard University and his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria.

“It feels good to be able to help with an effort like this. We’re not all billion dollar donors, but if we each do something it adds up.”

— Anthony Olorunnisola, associate dean

“Under President Barron we’ve talked more about affordability than at any other time in my 26 years here. It feels good to be able to help with an effort like this,” Olorunnisola said. “We’re not all billion dollar donors, but if we each do something it adds up.”

Major, a faculty member in the Department of Advertising/Public Relations since 1995, said she believes Penn State is genuinely committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. She said her immigrant family and educational experiences (“I never went to a school that wasn’t diverse in terms of students.”) made her decision to support the scholarship easy.

“I knew I had to say yes,” Major said. “In the community I grew up in education was highly valued and supporting the community was a core value of my family.”

She especially appreciates the value of diversity in the classroom.

“I‘ve always felt it was important in education to get perspectives other than my own,” she said. “I’ve done a fair bit of work internationally and it’s always been fascinating to me to see the world through the eyes of other people, and to learn and expand my own worldview based on that. That’s important for our students, too.”

For other supporters of the scholarship, the motivations were both personal and practical. O’Toole, a lecturer, and Nichols, professor emeritus, have longstanding relationships with the University. O’Toole earned three Penn State degrees and both have built careers as respected faculty members while regularly serving in leadership roles and on University-wide committees.

Likewise, Lugaro, the Bellisario College’s director of development, and Rodger, a development assistant, earned their bachelor’s degrees from Penn State and they work with students on an almost daily basis.

“Taking part in this was deeply meaningful to me,” said Lugaro, who was the first member of his family to earn a college degree. “As a former scholarship recipient I am grateful for the alumni who helped me succeed and I’m honored by the opportunity to now pay it forward.”

"I know this scholarship will make a difference for someone and I’m honored to give back.”

— Colette Rodger, development assistant

“This resonated with me because I understand the hardship many students face with attending a world-renowned institution,” said Rodger, development assistant in the Bellisario College.  “I want students to be able to focus and get the most out of every experience that Penn State and our college has to offer. I know this scholarship will make a difference for someone and I’m honored to give back.”

Their endowed support, which will be available annually and in perpetuity, will help the Bellisario College address problems of educational access that have historically reinforced economic disparities, and the students who benefit will drive transformation that, in turn, benefits the entire Penn State community and our wider society. Scholarships created through the program are intended to benefit undergraduates whose gender, race, ethnic, cultural and/or national background contribute to the diversity of the student body and who have a demonstrated financial need for funds to meet their necessary college expenses.

A broader campaign will launch later this month to give all faculty and staff the opportunity to make additional gifts to this fund.

The 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 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 serving communities and fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu

Last Updated November 23, 2020