In the News
Mystery Donor Gives to Colleges Led By Women
$70 million in anonymous donations will aid women and minority students
It was a scene straight out of Dickens.
Jason Ketter, director of development for Penn State Harrisburg, got quite a surprise this April Fool’s Day. Ketter works for the small (3,900 students) satellite college of the larger Penn State University system, which, like many schools, is grappling with devastating budget woes. Sorting through mail in his office on April 1, he opened an envelope and out fell two checks. Each for $1.5 million dollars. It wasn’t a joke.
Someone had just mailed the college the single largest gift it had ever received – completely anonymously.
“It just knocked our socks off,” Steve Hevner, Penn State Harrisburg public information manager, told BettyConfidential.com. “We, as a college, are just eternally grateful that someone felt us worthy of such a generous award.”
Half of the $3 million was designated, if possible, to go to women and minority students. The other $1.5 million was to be used at the discretion of the college. But any other clues to the mystery donor’s identity were utterly absent.
The same astonishing scene replayed itself at various colleges and universities in the last few weeks – from Iowa to Mississippi to Maryland. An undisclosed do-gooder dropped nearly $70 million on stupefied schools, according to the New York Times.
While the schools are scattered in various corners of the country and none boast marquee names, they share one common thread: They’re all led by women.
The only stipulation on the enigmatic donations is that most of the money (usually 50 percent to 80 percent) must aid women and minority students.
“If it’s true that this gift has been made to institutions led by women and to the extent that these gifts benefit scholarships that will, in turn, help young women pursue their goals of higher education, I think that’s a very nice bit of symmetry,” said Susan Shullaw, senior vice president of the University of Iowa Foundation, which received $7 million.
Michigan State received $10 million (the largest gift), Purdue University got $8 million, and both the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of North Carolina Greensboro gained $6 million. The other anointed academic campuses include the University of Southern Mississippi ($6 million), the University of Maryland University College ($6 million), Binghamton University ($6 million), The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs ($5.5 million), Montclair State ($5 million), Norfolk State University ($3.5 million), Kalamazoo College ($2 million) and the University of North Carolina Asheville ($1.5 million).
Shullaw told BettyConfidential.com that Sally Mason, president of the University of Iowa, was thrilled with the gift.
“I know that President Mason was the first in her family to attend college and she has a special fondness for students making that leap into a better life,” Shullaw said. “We are exceedingly grateful and the money is going to make an enormous difference.”
No one – not even the school’s development officers – knows the identity of their Fairy College Mother. And no one will dare take a guess, for fear of offending the donor’s request for anonymity.
Not that anyone’s complaining about the mystery.
“It’s almost indescribable the positive impact that it’s going to have,” said Ketter, from Penn State Harrisburg. “There’s a lot of need out there right now. And the number of worthy, needy deserving students who will be able to take advantage of this wonderful gift is innumerable.”
Penn State Harrisburg is also led by a female chancellor, Madlyn Hanes.
Ketter insisted he’s heard absolutely zero backlash about the gift designation specifically for women and minority students.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “We just want to say thank you from the bottom of the hearts and from thousands of students’ hearts who are going to have their lives enriched by this quite surprising generosity.”