Endowment Day Luncheon: "A Room Full of the Most Generous People You'll Ever Meet"

Nov. 5, 2019 - Wendy Martin

On October 14, the VCU School of Business hosted its third annual Endowment Day Luncheon at the Jefferson Hotel. Dean Ed Grier welcomed more than 50 of the school’s major gift donors, faculty and scholarship recipients to the event. Shannon Duvall, the school’s chief development officer, expressed her gratitude for $8.1 million in new gifts and pledges over the past year that:

·      established new scholarships,  

·      supported additional internship opportunities,

·      challenged students to thoughtfully consider ethics in business,

·      leveraged professional skill learning opportunities, and

·      created a major financial wellness initiative.

“We now have more than 150 endowed funds providing support for VCU Business students, faculty and programs.”

Endowment Day is probably my favorite event of the year,” beamed Angela Bartee, assistant director of Alumni Relations and Annual Giving as participants departed from the luncheon. “You have a room full of the most generous people you’ll ever meet. These donors have no idea who will receive their scholarships. They give just because they want to help the next generation. This event is special because it brings everyone together. Students meet the donors who provide the scholarships they receive. And our donors get to learn firsthand how their generosity is benefiting a student.”

Connecting donors with scholarship recipients

Certainly that was the case at the table where Daniel Filippelli sat with three other recipients of the Katherine Gomez Nelson Endowed Scholarship. Filippelli, who interned last summer with Altria and recently accepted a full-time job in supply chain management with the company upon his graduation, was pleasantly surprised to learn that Jack Nelson, his benefactor, had retired from Altria after serving as executive vice president and chief technology officer. 

“The scholarship was under his wife’s name and so I hadn’t connected it to him or Altria until that point. Jack shared a lot about his experience at Altria and gave me advice on starting a career there. Like me, Katherine also transferred to VCU from a community college. She explained how grateful she was for her time at VCU and how the school has grown. It was so nice to be able to put a face to the people who have been so generous to help finance my education.

Throughout the program, guests viewed emotional and inspiring video testimonies from other scholarship recipients, including Derek Hetrick, Annette Koroma and Giovanni Knight But perhaps the most moving testimony came from Rohit Karnati, a junior majoring in Finance with a minor in Computer Science who received the Michael and Joan Kline Endowed Scholarship for the 2019-2020 school year.

“You have eased the burden on my entire family.”

“Education is a privilege I dearly respect,” he told the assembled guests. “Being a first-generation student, I strive to be a role model for my younger brother and to fulfill the high expectations my parents have for me.”

Karnati described the dedication and perseverance his parents exhibited and the physical and emotional adversities they faced in immigrating to the United States from India. “Their life story always puts me in tears,” he said, earnestly. He explained that the Kline scholarship eased the burden on his entire family and enabled him to focus on his studies as well as travel to other cities for internship interviews.

The notion of “pay it forward” is not lost on Karnati, who volunteers at a soup kitchen at an Episcopal Church adjacent to campus. He pledged to use his own education to help future students become more financially literate and have a “steady financial life.” “My community has done so much for me and this is just one way I can give back.”

The transformative power of endowed professorships 

Carolyn Norman, chair of the VCU Accounting Department since 2010, told the audience that “gratefulness” was the simple criteria she uses to guide her own giving to the universities where she had been a student or a faculty member.

She also described why she invested her own funds at VCU to help create two endowed professorships. “When I became department chair, we were probably one of the few – if not the only – accounting department with a Ph.D. program that didn’t have endowed chairs. Not even one. That’s pretty rare.”

Since becoming chair, she has implemented changes that have resulted in VCU Accounting now being tied with two top universities for No. 14 in the nation for the quantity and quality of our experimental research. She credits this success to “the most wonderful, collaborative faculty I could ever hope for” and explained how additional endowed professorships will help enable VCU to attract and retain the best faculty – to enable them to feel valued and to have much-needed resources for travel, equipment, databases or research funds.

“I don’t know why each of you gives to the VCU School of Business,” she concluded. “But I can tell you – we’re all very grateful.”