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Worthy Endeavors

September 1, 2019

As undergraduate programs have become more visible, Maxwell donors—many of them alumni of the undergraduate majors themselves—have grown more eager to support those programs.

When Elliot Stamler arrived at Syracuse University in the late 1950s, he was the first in his family to go to college. His parents couldn’t afford the full cost of tuition and fees, but two scholarships—one from SU and one from the State of New York—put a Syracuse education within reach.

Stamler started in the business school but found his heart was in the social sciences, especially political science and history. He says all of his Maxwell professors were top-notch. He can still list all their names, 60 years later. But none made a deeper impression than Michael Sawyer, Maxwell’s beloved professor of constitutional law and politics.

“Not only was he the best teacher I ever had, but he was a mentor and friend to everybody,” Stamler says. “In class week after week, there would be sharp, analytical debates. You had to know your case, you had to know the issues, and you had to be able to defend your position. He was scrupulous that we were superbly trained.”

These memories of Stamler’s undergraduate years are especially fresh in his mind right now. At 80, retired from a highly successful career in marketing and in running his own investment firm, Northstar Assets, Stamler has made an extraordinary commitment to support academic excellence at SU; his bequest totals $5.48 million, of which a significant portion specifically benefits Maxwell School undergraduates.

The largest segments of his gift are earmarked for the Elliot J. Stamler Endowed Professorship of Citizenship and Public Policy, and for a scholarship for Maxwell undergraduates—particularly those studying economics, history, international relations, citizenship and civic engagement, or political science. Stamler’s gift also directly supports political science programs, including the creation of an annual prize given to the student who—as Stamler himself once did—earns the highest mark in constitutional law.

Stamler’s commitment to Maxwell undergraduates is shared by other alumni who have made recent major gifts. Elysa Wolfe ’93 BA (PSc/PSt), for instance, honored policy studies chair Bill Coplin by founding a scholarship in his name, to which scores of alumni have contributed.

“I think the students who come out of Maxwell are going to be on the vanguard of getting this country back on the rails.”

Eilliot Stamler ’60 BA (PSc)

Former Maxwell MPA student Ken Hedrick recently created the Walter F. Huxley and Robert K. Hedrick Endowed Scholarship to support Maxwell undergraduates, particularly first-generation college students.

Sarah Laditka ’94 MA (Econ)/’95 PhD (PA) and her husband Jim Laditka ’98 MPA/’02 PhD (PA), both professors of public health at the University of North Carolina–Charlotte, established a scholarship for social science undergraduates that also gives preference for first-generation college students and others in under-represented groups.

“Our Maxwell educations opened many doors for us,” the Laditkas noted in a joint statement announcing their gift. “We hope the students who are supported by this scholarship will have similar opportunities.”

Jeffrey Scruggs, another donor whose recent gift to the University specifically benefits Maxwell undergraduates, is not an alumnus, but he is deeply connected to Maxwell through his father, Otey Scruggs, a professor of history from 1969 until his retirement in 1995. A pioneer in the field of African American history, Otey Scruggs passed away in 2014, and now Jeffrey and his wife, Robbin Mitchell, have created the Otey and Barbara Scruggs Maxwell School Scholarship in honor of both of his parents.

“He really liked the undergraduates,” says Jeffrey Scruggs, a managing director at Goldman Sachs. “He felt that the undergrads kept him young, if you will. He always was very pleased when he saw students take an active interest in the topic. That made him feel everything he was doing had a value and a purpose.”

The new Scruggs scholarship supports Maxwell undergraduates to ensure that financial constraints don’t prevent them from continuing on their educational paths.

“We want to encourage people to complete a four-year education,” he says. “The scholarship is renewed each year as long as the person retains a commitment to the University and some level of academic achievement, so we are offering an incentive for people to do something that they love.”

Although few donors share Jeffrey Scruggs’s perspective—child of a former professor, who was closely connected to undergraduates through his teaching—most can identify with that bond, as former students. According to Laine Norton, Maxwell’s assistant dean for advancement, donors often give as an expression of emotional commitment.

“If you’ve sat in a Maxwell classroom and know what goes on there,” she says, “there is no more obvious philanthropic priority than to help others also sit in those classrooms and have that experience. A gift of undergraduate financial aid or undergraduate program support brings deep, meaningful memories full circle.”

In many cases, donors also feel that, by supporting Maxwell undergraduates, they are reinforcing the School’s mission to educate informed citizens who serve the public good.

Elliot Stamler sees that educational grounding as particularly critical in this era, given the stark divisions in American civic life.

“I’m so concerned about the future of the country, and I think the students who come out of Maxwell are going to be on the vanguard of getting this country back on the rails,” he says. “The kind of education Maxwell provides to its students can really make a difference.”

More Funds for Maxwell Undergrads

In addition to those mentioned above:

McClure Professors of Teaching Excellence. Created by multiple donors to honor Professor Bob McClure and promote lower-division, interdisciplinary teaching.

Chapple Family Professor. Created in 2006 by John Chapple ’75 BA (PSc) to promote the teaching of citizenship.

Rapaport Endowed Scholarship. Created by H. Lewis Rapaport ’59 BA (AmSt) and wife Susan to support undergrads interested in history or political science.

Kelso Scholarship Fund. Created by David Kelso, in honor of his parents, to assist undergraduates in the social sciences.

Ruth Pass Hancock Scholarship. Established by Jonathan Hancock ’95 MA (Geog) to honor his mother; preference to Central New York students in select majors who intend to work in the region.

By Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

This article appeared in the fall 2019 print edition of Maxwell Perspective © Maxwell School of Syracuse University. 

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