Eric and Molly Barron named 2021 Renaissance Fund honorees

August 17, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As Penn State’s Renaissance Fund celebrates its 45th year of honoring outstanding community members and helping students in need, the fund’s board of directors has selected Penn State President Eric J. Barron and First Lady Molly Barron as the 2021 honorees. A dinner in the Barrons’ honor will be held on Oct. 28.

“Molly and Eric truly epitomize the mission of the Renaissance Fund,” said Mimi Barash Coppersmith, chairperson of the event planning committee and a 1953 graduate of Penn State. “The Barrons have committed their entire lives — both personal and professional pursuits — to creating student opportunity. In State College and the Centre Region, the Barrons have fully invested themselves in the community, where they are as much our neighbors as University leaders. We’re lucky to have benefited from their vision and commitment, and we are forever grateful to honor them and endow a Renaissance Fund Scholarship to recognize their legacy.”

A native of Lafayette, Indiana, President Barron earned a bachelor’s degree in geology from Florida State and master's and doctoral degrees in oceanography from the University of Miami. Following graduation, Barron pursued postdoctoral research at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, and then joined the faculty of Penn State in 1986, where he spent the next 20 years of his career, first as founding director of the Earth System Science Center, then director of the Earth and Mineral Sciences Environment Institute, and finally as dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

President Barron left Penn State to serve as dean of the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin and then as director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. In 2010, he assumed the presidency of Florida State University, a position he held until 2014, when he returned to State College as Penn State’s 18th president.

At Penn State, President Barron’s administration has been defined by a dedication to student access, affordability and opportunity. Under his leadership, the University established the Achieve Penn State initiative, a series of programs that support students and families through institutional scholarships, summer school, on-campus employment, financial literacy education and campus transition programming. Another signature initiative of President Barron’s leadership, Invent Penn State, encourages entrepreneurship and innovation on Penn State campuses and throughout local communities with education, mentorship, maker spaces and other business resources. In both cases, the President has pledged institutional money to underscore his office’s commitment to these efforts and encourage and recognize private philanthropy. 

Penn State First Lady Molly Barron, of Oceanside, California, earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Central College in Iowa and began her teaching career at Palomar Mountain School, where she taught grades four through eight in a single classroom and served as principal. In 1981, she moved to Boulder, Colorado, where she and President Barron were married and began their family. After the couple and their two young children, Emily and James, moved to State College in 1986, Molly Barron dedicated herself to the community, serving as president of the Parent Teacher Organization, a frequent library volunteer, a kindergarten aide, a substitute teacher, and a contributor to the middle school computer technology program. With her husband’s leadership appointments, Barron became a visible and welcoming presence at University functions and alumni and student events. She currently serves as a volunteer on Penn State’s Women’s Philanthropic Advisory Board and the Schlow Library Foundation Board.

The Barrons’ commitment to student access is not merely a professional pursuit — the couple also has dedicated their personal philanthropy to ensuring Penn Staters stay on track to earn their degrees and achieve their dreams. The couple has invested across the University, supporting the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, The Arboretum at Penn State, Four Diamonds, the Renaissance Fund, and the Palmer Museum of Art. They have established two endowments through the Trustee Matching Scholarship Program, the Jim and “Mel” Barron Trustee Scholarship and the Walin and Dorothy Hatter Trustee Scholarship, named for the couple’s parents, in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. They also have created the Alice Battistini Open Doors Scholarship, named after their granddaughter, and the Staff Excellence Award to benefit high-achieving Penn State employees. The Barrons were welcomed into the Mount Nittany Society this past spring.

“Thanks to President and Mrs. Barron, our commitment to providing Penn State students with an accessible and affordable high-quality education remains strong and continues to expand,” said Nick Jones, executive vice president and provost of the University. “Efforts directed towards controlling tuition costs, expanding financial aid opportunities, and addressing issues such as food insecurity are critical, and Penn State and our students have benefited immensely from the Barrons’ leadership in philanthropy as we strive to meet our students’ needs to help them succeed.”

Each year, the Renaissance Fund honors an individual or couple who has contributed greatly to the Penn State and State College communities. In its selection process, the fund’s board of directors seeks to recognize individuals who have deep roots in the Centre Region, close relationships with civic and University leaders, and a commitment to philanthropy. An endowed scholarship fund is created in the name of each honoree, and gifts to the fund can be made by any Penn State supporter or member of the public. Renaissance scholarships are directed to high-achieving students with great financial need. During the 2020-21 academic year, more than 750 undergraduates across the University received more than $1.1 million in support from the Renaissance Fund scholarships. The Renaissance Fund has already begun accepting contributions to the Eric and Molly Barron Renaissance Scholarship.

“To receive a reward for simply doing what was right for our students and supporting their success feels unnecessary,” said President Barron, “but we are so grateful to celebrate the impact of the Renaissance Fund and our own pride in our students, this institution, and the broader community. Serving Penn State and advocating for our students has been the honor of my career.”

"Eric and I are deeply honored to have been selected as Renaissance Fund honorees,” said Molly Barron. “But even more importantly, we are delighted that the Eric and Molly Barron Renaissance Fund will enable academically talented students with financial need to receive a Penn State education, so that one day they can make their own mark on their communities.”

To learn more about making a gift to the Eric and Molly Barron Renaissance Scholarship, visit or contact Kathy Kurtz, associate director of annual giving, at or 814-863-2052.

Gifts to the Eric and Molly Barron Renaissance Scholarship 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

Last Updated September 14, 2021