Dahlgren Chapel of The Sacred Heart

Title:Georgetown parents give $5M to endow scholarships and support university priorities

Fourteen sophomore through senior students attend an Ash Wednesday 2019 Mass overlooking Vatican City. Two alumni studying for the priesthood joined the students.
Fr. Mark Bosco, S.J., Ph.D., (second from left), two alumni, and 14 students attend an Ash Wednesday 2019 Mass overlooking Vatican City.

Offering flexibility to the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching, and Service

Alongside Fr. Bosco, Andria Wisler has worked closely with the couple for several years. Their first gift to the university in 2018 included a “director’s fund” gift to CSJ that gave Wisler discretion to spend the fund on curricular projects that advanced the university’s Jesuit mission. One such project was community-based learning, in which students work with underserved individuals to meet community-defined needs while earning course credit.

Andria Wisler, Ph.D., facilitates a class dialogue in Introduction to Justice and Peace.
Andria Wisler, Ph.D., facilitates a class dialogue in Introduction to Justice and Peace.

The discretionary nature of the gift ensured flexibility when the pandemic brought in-person programming to a halt in 2020, with Wisler able to pivot to virtual collaborations and to use the funding to support staff development, including anti-racism training.

“Discretionary funding is incredibly helpful,” Wisler says. “It offered the flexibility so I could still use that funding during our virtual years, and after COVID-19, it will continue to work its magic. That’s the best kind of funding.”

The donors say they invest in individuals they believe in, and offer their trust.

“It goes back to the people within Georgetown,” the donor says. “We have the utmost confidence in those people and feel that they deserve to have that ability to be flexible. Even if we didn’t have COVID-19, things always change, and they change at a pretty fast pace nowadays. People have done some pretty incredible things thanks to that flexibility.”

Expanding impact through support for financial aid, equity, and access programs

As the donors’ understanding of the university deepened, their interest expanded to include providing support for financial aid and related programs that ensure students thrive during their time at Georgetown. They spent time with Heidi Elmendorf and Randy Bass discussing their focus on improving equity and accessibility in higher education. The donors appreciated Elmendorf and Bass’s pursuit of new approaches to complex societal problems, such as how to redesign education systems through a more equitable lens. Additionally, they were excited by values-infused innovation projects in the Red House, Community Scholars Program, and the Hub for Equity and the Academic Experience.

Heidi Elmendorf speaks at the 2019 Summer Institute on Equity in the Academic Experience.
At the first annual Summer Institute on Equity in the Academic Experience, Heidi Elmendorf, co-director of the institute along with Randy Bass, welcomes administrators who have traveled to Georgetown University from all over the country to address the toughest questions in higher education.

“Heidi Elmendorf and Randy Bass are valuable thought partners,” the donors say. “We were struck by the way they live and breathe access and equity issues in their daily work. They embody the ethos of what Georgetown stands for. They could do their work anywhere, but they choose to do it at Georgetown, which speaks volumes.”

Seeking to support new projects grounded in Jesuit principles of education, after visiting with Bass and Elmendorf in early 2019, the donors made a $500,000 pledge to two projects: the Business Scholars Program and The Pivotal Network.

Three cohorts of 15 students have now participated in the Business Scholars Program, a summer program that provides experiential learning and personal support to members of the Community Scholars Program who are studying quantitative disciplines in the business field.

“Many of these students have gotten to Georgetown because they formed close relationships with teachers in high school who supported their goals and ambitions,” Elmendorf says. “Students often struggle in very large courses where it is hard to form a personal connection with the professor. I know that from personal experience teaching a large introductory science course, and it’s why we started the Regents STEM Scholars Program in 2016. Now the Business Scholars Program provides similar opportunities to get to know professors outside of class.

The donors’ most recent $5 million gift continues support for The Pivotal Network and provides endowment funds for scholarships. The Pivotal Network addresses the problem of undermatching—in which a student chooses a higher education institution that is less rigorous than their academic potential—by supporting the work of outstanding high school teachers who are pivotal to student success. To date, the network has built partnerships between 60 educators, teaching an average of 110 students per year, along with colleges and universities.

“We created the Pivotal Network to ensure that Georgetown wasn’t just supporting students once they found their way to us, but also to invest in educators earlier in the educational pipeline who help students achieve their educational and career potentials,” Elmendorf says. “This is our way of fulfilling our Jesuit identity and supporting the educational excellence already embedded in our country.”

Bass values the donors’ trust in outside-the-box thinking and range of investment.

“At Georgetown, we think of educational innovation as three levels: venture research and development, applied innovation, and long-term investment,” Bass says. “These donors are ideal philanthropic supporters for their willingness to give at all three levels,” he continues. The gift to the Pivotal Network is seed funding for a new idea, the gift to create the Business Scholars Program supports applied innovation that expands the work of the Regents STEM Scholars Program, and the gift to financial aid is a long-term investment in students.

Growing and adapting a philosophy of philanthropy

Because of the trust built through relationships with Fr. Bosco, Wisler, Elmendorf, and Bass, the donors have expanded and deepened their impact on Georgetown over the years, while staying anchored in their goal of ensuring that students can access and thrive in a Catholic and Jesuit university setting

“At the end of the day, it’s important that we support as many students as we can to get the overall Georgetown experience,” the donor says.