Promises Kept By Ed Moorhouse, Jacqueline D'Ercole and Steve Neumann

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.” —Robert Frost

Inspired by a Robert Frost poem and driven by a desire to vault Ursinus—and most importantly, its students—to new heights in its 150th year, the college’s bold and unprecedented Keep the Promise campaign was born. More than $100 million later, the Collegeville, Pa., campus is a hub of innovation and opportunity.

Jadidsa Perez ’21 is grateful.

For the Ursinus College English major, attending college was an unknown. “Before Ursinus,” Perez says, “we had a family discussion about whether I should go to college or go to work; and I think that's a discussion that a lot of low-income families have.”

It’s a reality many students face, especially as the cost of college and accrued debt upon graduation come under constant scrutiny. But, at Ursinus, Perez found opportunity. She is the recipient of the Inspirational Women’s Scholarship, one of 65 new endowed or Annual Fund scholarships that have been established during Keep the Promise, the largest comprehensive campaign in Ursinus history.

Through the scholarship, Perez exemplifies the Ursinus promise of providing a purposeful education. She’s a proud Bonner leader—a member of the college’s signature service program—and speaks of the impact she makes working in the community with local nonprofit organizations.

“As I began feeling more comfortable and gained more confidence, I realized that what matters are the connections that you make with other people, and how that can contribute to a better environment overall,” she says.

Jadidsa Perez ’21 attends a recent scholarship celebration. Photo by Dan Z. Johnson.

Perez’s scholarship was created by Senior Vice President for Advancement Jill Leauber Marsteller ’78 P’18, whose steadfast leadership has guided Keep the Promise from its quiet phase in July 2012, to its public launch in 2016 and through the eclipse of the $100 million mark in January 2020.

Marsteller has been impressed with Perez’s growth while at Ursinus, and the two have even become close. “I've seen her on campus, and I've watched what she's achieved,” Marsteller says. “It's one thing to say you want to create a scholarship for women that aspire, but then to watch how she has inspired others—even herself and her family—has been just ideal.”

That Perez was able to attend Ursinus through a scholarship is precisely one of the factors that drove the campaign in the first place. It gets its name from a famous poem by Robert Frost: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep,” the final stanza goes, “But I have promises to keep/And miles to go before I sleep.”

“This was a very apt phrase for us,” says Marsteller, who draws inspiration from poetry and often recites her favorites. “Our 150th anniversary was coming up, and we wanted to keep the promise of our original mission and values—to continue access to scholarship support, and to provide students with a high-level, rigorous liberal arts education.”

The seeds of the campaign were planted when the late Ursinus President Bobby Fong picked up the mantle of his predecessor, John Strassburger, when Fong began his own strategic planning process. The goal was to organize the campaign into three priorities: advance academic innovation, invest in student success, and ignite the power of Ursinus’s people.

After eight years, Keep the Promise has been a phenomenal success: More than $105 million has been raised by over 14,000 donors, some 6,900 alumni, 5,300 parents and nearly 7,700 first-time donors.

The impact is broad and sweeping, visible in nearly every corner of Ursinus’s Collegeville campus.

“I think that the takeaway is that Ursinus is continuing to invest in a vibrant environment, both in terms of buildings and programming and curricula, to address the needs of today's students, as well as tomorrow’s students,” says Margaret “Peg” Williams ’80, Keep the Promise campaign co-chair.

In a time when a lot of other colleges are tightening their belts, we’ve made the decision to invest in our curriculum, our students and our facilities.”

Donor giving has supported the college in innumerable ways and perhaps what is most evident to visitors to campus is the expansion of the college’s footprint. The Ursinus experience of 2020 begins at its new front doorstep, the Schellhase Commons, a welcome center, coffeehouse and hub for admissions that will be used by all members of the college and local communities. Across campus, the $29 million Innovation and Discovery Center—which was nearly half-funded through private philanthropy—now bridges Pfahler and Thomas halls, offering an interdisciplinary hub of science, policy and entrepreneurship. There have also been key renovations to spaces within the Wismer Center, Myrin Library and athletics, including the resurfacing of Eleanor Frost Snell Alumnae Field, made possible through the generosity of Adele Boyd ’53.

Eleanor Frost Snell Alumnae Field was resurfaced thanks to a gift from Adele Boyd ’53. Photo by David Morgan.

But the overarching focus of Keep the Promise was always on supporting and cultivating the growth of students, and increasing funding for financial aid, first and foremost, is a vital component to achieving this objective. In fact, 30 percent of the campaign’s goal was earmarked for this purpose.

“My scholarship means a lot to me because there would be no other way for me to afford to attend college,” says Jacob Ross ’22, a history major who was the inaugural recipient of the S. Ross Doughty ’68 Endowed Scholarship. “It's really encouraging for what I'm hoping to do next.”

Ross will only be a junior next year, so he’s keeping his career options open; currently, he plans on going for his teaching certificate in history. He is the beneficiary of the generosity of more than 75 donors who collectively donated over $100,000 to establish an endowed scholarship to honor the late Doughty, longtime faculty member and chair of the history department. It was a grassroots effort led by current history chair Susanna Throop and an inspiring reminder of the power of hands united.

Helping to bring students to campus is one thing, but the campaign also promotes providing the most life- changing educational experiences possible. This is achieved through the new Quest curriculum; the interdisciplinary learning that takes place in any of Ursinus’s three academic centers; athletics and extracurricular programming; and the hands-on and immersive learning opportunities that are offered through study abroad, internships and externships, PhillyX, the Summer Fellows program and other student/faculty research initiatives. Each have been amplified through the generosity of donors during Keep the Promise.

Keep the Promise has supported faculty and student research opportunities. Photo by Dominic Monte.

Vikki Rueda-Juarez ’21, a biochemistry and molecular biology major who is also the recipient of the Hermann A. and Sonia M. Lintner Fund, can speak firsthand about the impact of the full Ursinus experience.

“Being a student at Ursinus has changed my life a lot,” says Rueda-Juarez. “The interactions I’ve had have really shaped me and pushed me to be strong, and to be a leader, and not just blend into the group.”

Last summer, she was one of only 18 undergraduate research fellows chosen by the Association for Psychological Science for STRIDE (Short-Term Research Education Program to Increase Diversity in Health-Related Research) because of her work in Professor Beth Bailey’s lab, where she studies the heart’s response to the physiological stress of pregnancy. She was chosen from an international pool of applicants, and was the only fellow performing research at a liberal arts college.

The opportunities that students like Perez, Ross and Rueda-Juarez speak of aren’t just a theme for this current generation of Bears. John Fessick ’85, senior vice president and commercial banking leader with Wells Fargo, is an alumnus and college trustee who believes in the importance of giving back to Ursinus because he credits the success he’s had in life to his time at the college.

“I received a scholarship when I was here,” he says. “I could not have gone to Ursinus without it, and I feel very grateful and blessed to be able to give back and benefit students that are currently going to school today.”

Fessick has donated toward a number of campaign priorities, including sponsoring the John M. Fessick ’85 and Cynthia Y. Fessick Annual Fund Scholarship, the Abele Science Equipment Fund, the Schellhase Commons and the Annual Fund. The latter represents the college’s unrestricted giving fund, a vital resource that provides flexible dollars for financial aid, infrastructure improvements, student life and much more.

The growth of the Annual Fund was a major priority of Keep the Promise. At the start of the campaign, the college was raising $1.5 million per year in unrestricted giving. Since that time, that number has grown substantially, with more than $2 million per year raised for the Annual Fund since fiscal year 2016. In fiscal year 2018, the college raised $2.9 million and should surpass $2 million again this year, despite the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has raised nationwide.

Now, more than ever before, the Annual Fund has proven particularly important, given the current economic instability facing the higher education sector and our world market more generally.

As the campaign reaches its formal culmination on June 30, the college aims to sustain this amplified level of donor philanthropy into the future. It will continue to be integral to the college’s success in the coming months and years as Ursinus seeks to educate future leaders and global citizens.

“The Keep the Promise campaign may soon be finished,” says Ann (Helfferich) Mackenzie ’77, who serves as co-chair of the 1869 Society (individuals, corporations and foundations who make unrestricted annual gifts to Ursinus of $1,869 or more) with her husband, trustee Graham “Mac” Mackenzie ’74.

“But everyone has to remember to keep the promise forever by giving back to the college.”

Key Outcomes

  • The 42,500-square-foot Innovation and Discovery Center.
  • The Schellhase Commons, named for Richard T. Schellhase ’45 and Kay Schellhase ’57.
  • A field resurfacing project at Eleanor Frost Snell Alumnae Field.
  • The Bear2Bear Student Emergency Fund, which provides special grants to students who are facing temporary financial hardship as a result of an emergency or crisis.
  • The U-Imagine Center for Integrative and Entrepreneurial Studies, one of President Bobby Fong’s signature initiatives.
  • The Parlee Center for Science and the Common Good, endowed by Don Parlee ’55 and Joan Parlee ’57.
  • The Abele Scholars Program provides crucial financial assistance to students. Joan and Will Abele ’61 and the Abele Family Foundation committed the largest gift in Ursinus College history to support the program.
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