Penn State siblings, spouses, join forces to create equity scholarship

Susan Burlingame
December 21, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For the Miller siblings — Seth, Sean and Julie (now Devlin) — giving back was part of their upbringing. Their mother emigrated from Germany after the Holocaust; her parents were survivors. The Jewish practice of “tikkun olam,” which translates to meaning “repair the world,” inspired the family always to do good for others.

“Growing up, we were always involved in philanthropic endeavors, volunteerism, supporting people. It’s been ingrained in us,” said Sean Miller, director of development and alumni relations for the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State. “(My wife) Marjorie and I were both brought up that way, and that is part of the reason we connected to each other.”

That spirit of giving back is what prompted Sean to reach out to his siblings when Penn State offered a $10 million pool of matching funds to encourage people to create educational equity scholarships for students from underrepresented backgrounds with financial need. All three siblings are Penn State liberal arts alumni (Julie also is an alumna of the Bellisario College of Communications), as is Seth’s wife, Katie. By pooling their resources and making monthly payments for five years, the families are contributing $25,000 to establish the Devlin/Miller Educational Equity Scholarship in the College of the Liberal Arts. Through the recently concluded Educational Equity Matching Program, their commitment was immediately matched dollar-for-dollar by the University to create, when fully funded, a $50,000 scholarship endowment to help students in need.

“My brother is the purveyor of all information about Penn State, and he has always known that all of us have charitable instincts,” said Seth. “Not that we have a lot of money or are independently wealthy, but this scholarship was an opportunity to reinforce how we all feel about educational equity and equality. It gave us a chance to put our money where our mouths are.”

Though in his professional life Sean raises funds for a different Penn State unit (Schreyer Honors College), he said the family directed their philanthropy to the College of the Liberal Arts in part because they are all alumni but more so because of the vision of Dean Clarence Lang, who began his tenure with the college in July 2019. Lang has named access, affordability and career readiness as his three top priorities.

“I was captivated by Clarence Lang’s vision, and I have been very impressed not only by what he is doing for the college but also on the University level,” said Sean. Dean Lang was recently named cochair of Penn State’s Commission on Racial/Ethnic Diversity.

Adding to their passion for helping students of color, Sean and Marjorie are the adoptive parents of a biracial daughter.

“We want to make sure that the environment Adele grows up in is represented,” said Marjorie Miller. “Representation matters and we try to do that in our own home. Putting action behind our words was really a motivating factor.”

“We as a family have talked a lot about what’s happening in the world and the country and how it affects our niece,” said Julie. “She is growing up in a white family, but we want her to know that we are not sitting in the background doing nothing. This scholarship is a way for us to help others go to Penn State and thrive just like we did.” 

The siblings and their spouses are in their 30s and 40s – in many ways, just starting out in their lives and careers. Sean and Marjorie’s daughter is only 6 years old. Seth and Katie have an 8-year-old son, Gideon. Julie and her husband, Daniel, were just married in May 2018. Still, the siblings said creating this scholarship was both an easy decision and fairly easy financially as well. Their spouses enthusiastically agreed.

“My husband and I just bought our first home and are still paying off our student loans, so we have a lot of other financial commitments,” said Julie. “However, by joining my other siblings and their spouses in this and making one small contribution each month over a number of years, we are going to make such a great impact for at least one person in the future. It’s worth every penny, and it is an easy way to make a great contribution for the future of Penn State and the future student leaders.”

“We’re not only excited about the opportunity to financially support students from underrepresented communities,” added Sean. “We are also excited about getting to know them — if that’s what they want — and maybe serving as role models and friends and making them part of our extended family.

“We also hope that we are setting an example for our recipients,” he continued. “If they know someone was there for them, maybe they will be in a position to give back someday. It’s about continuing a culture of philanthropy and helping others.”

“Think of all the money we spend on something frivolous,” said Seth. “Here’s something that, especially in times like these, makes us feel like we’re doing something important for other people at a pivotal time in their life. You don’t have to be our parents’ age or retired to make a difference.”

“Our parents, by the way, are very proud of us,” said Julie.

The Devlin/Miller Educational Equity Scholarship 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 benefactors 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 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 December 22, 2020