A new scholarship program aimed at attracting first-generation students to the University of Virginia will be established as part of a $100 million gift announced Saturday.
Alumnus David Walentas, a New York real estate developer, and his wife, Jane, donated the $100 million. He was the first in his family to attend college, according to a news release.
“Growing up, I didn’t know anyone who had been to college, but I knew that it was a way out of poverty and a path to opportunity,” Walentas said in the release. “Thanks to a scholarship, I was the first in my family to attend college, and my time at UVa completely changed my life. There are so many talented young people in this country — in places like New York City and Rochester, where I grew up — who can help make our society a better place if given the opportunity. I can’t wait to see how these first-generation college students change the world.”
Most of the gift — $75 million — is committed to scholarships and fellowships for first-generation students, with the remaining $25 million dedicated to fellowships and professorships through the Jefferson Scholars Foundation and the Darden School of Business.
“This gift will have a profound and lasting impact on first-generation college students,” Jimmy Wright, president of the Jefferson Scholars Foundation, which directs the premier undergraduate scholarship and graduate fellowship programs at UVa, said in the release. “We look forward to establishing the preeminent scholarship program in the nation for first-generation students and bringing an exceptional group of smart, resilient and industrious Walentas Scholars to the University of Virginia.”
The Walentas Scholars will be funded with $50 million from Walentas, plus an additional $20 million in matching funds from the university’s Bicentennial Scholars Fund. According to the release, it initially will seek to identify and attract first-generation undergraduate students from Virginia, Rochester, New York, and from New York City. Beginning in 2022, individual schools at UVa will be invited to nominate candidates to compete for the scholarship.
The Jefferson Scholars Foundation expects to enroll 60 undergraduates as Walentas Scholars for the merit-based scholarships that will cover the full cost of attending UVa.
Another $25 million will be used to create a new fellowship program for first-generation MBA students through the Darden School’s Future Year Scholars Program.
“At the Darden School of Business, we are incredibly grateful to, and proud of, alumnus David Walentas and his wife Jane for creating this new program to enable exceptional first-generation students to attend Darden as Walentas Fellows and pursue their purpose,” Scott C. Beardsley, dean of the Darden School, said in the release.
The Darden School and Jefferson Scholars Foundation will identify students who are the first in their immediate families to graduate from a four-year college or university.
The final $25 million of the Walentas gift will be directed toward professorships and fellowships through the Jefferson Scholars Foundation and Darden School of Business. It will provide funding for the Darden Jefferson Fellowship Program; support the A. Macdonald Caputo Leadership Excellence Fund; establish a Jefferson Scholars Foundation Visiting Professorship; and create three Jefferson Scholars Foundation Professorships, one in real estate at the Darden School and two for which UVa President Jim Ryan will determine the highest and best use, the release said.
UVa kicked off the public phase of its $5 billion “Honor the Future” capital campaign this weekend, 200 years after the university was chartered.
“I cannot imagine a better way to honor the future than by making a significant and lasting commitment to first-generation college students,” Ryan said. “This gift from David Walentas will serve as a cornerstone of the $5 billion campaign we are launching this weekend and will have an enduring impact on the University of Virginia and on those who attend it.”