MONT ALTO, Pa. — About 100 family members, friends, and regional business leaders gathered in the Multipurpose Activities Center at Penn State Mont Alto on April 12 to honor Mike and Donna Ross and join in the establishment of a Renaissance Fund Scholarship. Together, they raised $60,190 that will support academically talented Penn State students with financial need in perpetuity.
“From early childhood development right on through college and post graduate education, Mike and Donna Ross are passionate supporters of a strong education and the many opportunities that education provides,” said Steve Hawbaker, president of the Penn State Mont Alto Advisory Board, as he introduced the Rosses as the 2019 Penn State Mont Alto Renaissance Fund honorees.
“My mom and Mike’s parents were all teachers,” said Donna Ross, a retired early childhood educator. “Our parents instilled in us a love of learning and worked hard to offer us opportunities they didn’t have. We understand there can be obstacles in pursuing higher education. Financial support is a big one."
Mike Ross serves as a member of the Penn State Mont Alto Advisory Board and is president of the Franklin County Area Development Corporation (FCADC). Over the past 32 years, he has been involved in more than 760 development projects in Franklin County, where he and Donna raised daughters Kira; Tracy, a 2010 juris doctorate graduate; and Alyssa.
“I believe ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’” said Donna. “The people in this room have been our village as we’ve raised our girls. With this scholarship, we hope to create the village to raise the next generation."
Penn State Mont Alto Chancellor Francis K. Achampong said, “At a time when the cost of higher education continues to grow, Penn State’s Renaissance Scholarship program is responding with financial support to help students achieve their dream of earning a Penn State degree."
Since the first Renaissance dinner in 1977, Penn State campuses continue to gather annually and pay tribute to those who have significantly impacted the University and their local communities by endowing a new Renaissance Fund Scholarship in their name.
“Have you heard of THON, the biggest student-run philanthropy in the world? Who has had the opportunity to visit New York City? Have you ever given back to a community that is not your own? Have you managed a budget of $1.6 million to positively impact a university campus setting? These are just some of the opportunities I was able to experience after coming to school thanks to the help of the Renaissance Scholarship."
— Santiago Morillo, Penn State Mont Alto student
Across Penn State this year, 662 students are receiving Renaissance Fund Scholarships — and Mont Alto has 23 Renaissance Scholars, according to Achampong. They are selected from a population with the greatest financial need and the highest academic achievement. Once chosen, they will continue to receive support even if they transition to another Penn State campus, as long as they maintain a 3.0 or higher grade-point-average, and continue to demonstrate financial need. Based on current endowment levels, Renaissance Scholars are receiving about $6,000 over four years.
“Penn State is one of the premier academic institutions in the world and the impact of its graduates is everywhere, including Franklin County,” said Mike Ross, addressing the audience at the event. “The majority of those graduates owe their success to the scholarship opportunities they were afforded. Their success becomes our success as they are better able to contribute to their community post-graduation. Your support of this scholarship is your commitment to the future."
Penn State Mont Alto Renaissance Scholarship recipients Allison Meyers and Santiago Morillo described how the support they receive is helping to make their futures bright.
Meyers, who grew up on a farm in Franklin County, said her dream of attending college was nearly cut short by a “struggle for tuition money.” But with the support of the George and Judy Bugyi Renaissance Fund Scholarship, she has completed her associate of science degree in physical therapy at Penn State Mont Alto and is now pursuing a bachelor’s degree in language, arts and sciences. She plans to attend graduate school.
Santiago Morillo described how the Centennial Fellows Renaissance Fund Scholarship is broadening his horizons.
“Have you heard of THON, the biggest student-run philanthropy in the world?" he said. "Who has had the opportunity to visit New York City? Have you ever given back to a community that is not your own? Have you managed a budget of $1.6 million to positively impact a university campus setting? These are just some of the opportunities I was able to experience after coming to school thanks to the help of the Renaissance Scholarship."
In 2013, Morillo, a human development and family studies major, moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic with his grandfather, who was planning to care for Morillo and his sister. However, a couple months after their arrival, his grandfather passed away.
“From there, my sister and I moved [in the world] independently,” he said. “It was hard, but we strived to succeed. Thanks to this generous scholarship, I am the first in my family who is able to attend college.”
Morillo said he hopes to one day use his degree to help others who are less fortunate.
During the evening, the Rosses' friends, colleagues, and daughter Kira Coy, spoke of the couple's dedication to education.
Coy mentioned the support she and her sisters received while growing up from parents who are “huge advocates of education.”
“That my parents are being recognized by a Renaissance Scholarship is perfectly fitting. They are supportive, talented, and motivated individuals … and I couldn’t be more proud,” she said.
Dave Mackley, an FCADC colleague of Mike Ross, spoke of his appreciation for being allowed to complete his internship while earning his master’s degree.
“Mike gave me the time out of the office — seven weeks total and with pay — to complete the program, saying my degree would ultimately benefit the FCADC in some way,” said Mackley.
Close friend and colleague Robert “Bob” Cormack, executive director of the Bucks County Economic Development Corporation, said, “Mike is always searching for opportunities and new ways to promote our profession through education.”
“Philosophically, we believe education is the foundation of our society,” said Mike Ross. “To the extent that the scholarship can create opportunities for men and women who would not typically have the chance to advance their degrees, it is not only good for them, it’s good for all of us. We’re proud to live and work in this community and we want others to have the opportunity to establish a foundation here too.”
For the recipients, the Renaissance Fund Scholarships are life-changing.
“Thank you for supporting future students, who much like me, may not have access to Penn State without a scholarship support,” said Morillo. “Thank you for believing in us and thank you for helping us succeed. I promise, we won’t let you down.”
The Renaissance Fund has helped thousands of academically talented students with financial need complete their Penn State education since its founding in 1969 by five University Trustees. About half (49 percent) of all Renaissance Scholars are the first in their family to attend college, 87 percent are Pennsylvania residents, and 96 percent go on to earn bachelor’s degrees.
Longtime campus Campaign Chair Ellen Palmer, class of 1989, who died in January 2019, was credited for initiating this group fundraising effort. Palmer and the Campaign Committee supported the Penn State Mont Alto Development Office staff in making this successful event a reality.
See more photos from the evening here.
Gifts to the Renaissance Fund 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 hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.