Penn State alum finds meaning in giving

Susan Burlingame
June 09, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State alumnus Jason Kogan describes his life as a series of stories. A cousin and a call from a phone booth that led to his attending Penn State. An eye injury in ninth grade that led to his becoming an attorney. A last-minute change in dinner plans that resulted in his joining a law firm in California. A chance meeting on a cruise ship that led to his meeting Lori Jacobson, the woman he would be married to for nearly 25 years before losing her to cancer.

The pivotal moments and experiences of Kogan’s life — his stories — ultimately led him to a successful career and the ability to make philanthropic gifts to places and causes that are meaningful to him: healthcare, museums, and of course, Penn State. With gifts and pledges now amounting to more than $650,000 — the majority of which were made during the COVID-19 global pandemic — Kogan is making a palpable difference for the College of Arts and Architecture and the College of the Liberal Arts.

A retired shareholder of the law firm of Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks, Lincenberg & Rhow, P.C., Kogan earned his history degree in 1966 from the College of the Liberal Arts, followed by a law degree from George Washington University Law School in 1969. Early in his career, Kogan served as law clerk to Chief Judge Andrew Hood of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and as an assistant United States attorney for the District of Columbia. Raised in Connecticut but a California resident since 1983, Kogan supports the Iris Cantor-UCLA Women’s Health Center, where he is the only man on the executive advisory board. He also supports the Brunnier Art Museum at Iowa State University, funding acquisitions in Lori’s memory and naming the new entrance gallery for her. While an undergraduate intern at the Brunnier, Lori, he said, “found her path,” which led to a 37-year career devoted to museums as an educator, curator, consultant, and co-founder/principal of a firm focusing on exhibit design/build projects, strategic planning and program development.

With a $500,000 commitment, Kogan will give his own name to one of the special exhibition galleries in the new Palmer Museum of Art, slated to open in fall 2023. With an additional gift to the College of Arts and Architecture, he is sponsoring the museum’s upcoming 50th anniversary celebration. His gifts to the Palmer were inspired by his late wife’s love of museums, “which became an important part of our life.” Additionally, after attending several Zoom presentations during the pandemic, followed by an invitation to sit in on a few art history classes, Kogan made a gift to the Department of Art History to create a teaching fellowship for an advanced doctoral candidate.

“The new Palmer Museum of Art will create wonderful opportunities for expanded exhibitions, student engagement opportunities and meaningful community partnerships,” said Director Erin M. Coe. “With his extraordinary gift, which honors his wife as well as his devotion to his alma mater, Jason Kogan is helping us bring our vision to life. We are so very grateful.”

“Jason has become a true member of the Arts and Architecture family,” added Dean B. Stephen Carpenter II. “In the short time we have known each other, I have been impressed by his generosity as well as his engagement with the college in other ways. His gifts will be invaluable to the Palmer and the college, and his suggestions have afforded me a greater opportunity to meet our alumni during my first year as dean.” 

In the College of the Liberal Arts, Kogan followed his gifts to the Palmer with a $100,000 pledge to create the Jason D. Kogan Faculty Research Fund in Jewish Studies. Kogan said he initially intended to create the fund through his future estate but soon realized he could make an immediate difference for the program by making the gift now.

“I started to rethink it and decided not to put it off,” he said, noting that his Jewish faith as well as the cultural importance of Judaism influenced his decision. “Interest in Jewish studies has increased, and I knew this fund would help add to the research, so I decided to contribute $50,000 this year — and $50,000 more in my estate — enabling the first award to be made next year.”

“Jason Kogan has been an ardent supporter of undergraduate students in Jewish Studies and history for many years,” said Jewish Studies Program Director Tobias Brinkmann, Malvin and Lea Bank Associate Professor of Jewish Studies and History, noting Kogan’s gift to endow a scholarship in history in 2002. “His latest gift is particularly meaningful because of the international nature of the research we conduct and because our program is expanding. Ultimately, he is helping our scholars prepare students to thrive in the global workplace, and we are very grateful for his generosity.”

Clarence Lang, Susan Welch Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts, commented, “Jason Kogan is a special kind of alumnus. He is a deep thinker, and I have enjoyed learning about what matters to him. I am extremely pleased that his generosity will promote the exciting work going on in our growing Jewish Studies program.”

Kogan, reflecting on why he has become philanthropic, said, “Over time, with each birthday that passes, I learn more about myself. A friend recently told me, ‘Don’t think about your age; you’re gaining more wisdom as you get older.’ So now I think about what people have done for me and about what I can do for others. My recent gifts to Penn State honor my experiences as a student and an alumnus, and they allow me to establish a legacy — one where people in the future will know who I am and how my alma mater shaped my life.”

Kogan’s 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 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.

  • Kogan_Jason+Lori.jpg

    Penn State history alumnus Jason Kogan and his late wife, Lori Jacobson, traveled to many countries together, exploring museums and other sites. Lori was the inspiration behind much of Kogan's philanthropy, both at Penn State and elsewhere. They are pictured here in 2012 when they visited Claude Monet's Garden at Giverny.

    IMAGE: Courtesy of Jason Kogan
Last Updated June 10, 2021