Feb. 27, 2017
The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering has received a $5 million founding gift from longtime benefactor C. Kenneth Wright to establish a scholarship fund for undergraduate students.
The Wright Engineering Access Scholarship Program will become the school’s flagship scholarship program to provide need- and merit-based awards to a broad base of students, including community college transfers. Wright’s gift is the largest scholarship gift in the school’s 21-year history.
VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., said the gift, which is expected to create opportunities for many first-generation college students and those coming to VCU from community colleges, typifies Wright’s special brand of giving.
“National Philanthropy Day was about two months ago, but Ken Wright is a philanthropist of a lifetime,” Rao said. “He gives with the intention to create wonderful new opportunities for our students. The VCU School of Engineering provides a great platform to leverage his generosity.”
When fully implemented, the Wright Engineering Access Scholarship will reach hundreds of students every year and provide resources to help promote a broad range of high-value opportunities in the engineering profession. The new program provides expanded resources to attract and retain the best-qualified students, regardless of financial need, and will complement existing programs to help recipients reduce or even eliminate loan indebtedness.
“We want to make economic opportunities real,” said Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., dean of the VCU School of Engineering. “Because of the Wright scholarship program we will be able to bring in students who may not have been financially able to go to engineering school — students who hadn’t even considered it because the time commitment required to do well in engineering just wasn’t possible if they had to work to support themselves and their families. Now we can take those students and give them that opportunity.
“With this scholarship, plus internships and co-ops, students will be able to graduate from the VCU School of Engineering with a highly valued degree at a modest cost. This really matters, because nobody wants young people to take on debt.”
The Engineering Access Scholarship Program extends Wright’s longstanding tradition of philanthropy to VCU and the School of Engineering. Last year, he made a $16 million gift to name the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research, which fosters collaborative science and health care research among VCU investigators and students including many from the School of Engineering. A $10.5 million gift to the School of Engineering Foundation established the school’s C. Kenneth and Dianne Harris Wright Virginia Microelectronics Center.
Wright and his late wife Dianne were entrepreneurs in the vehicle rental and travel industries, ultimately owning several businesses that operated primarily in Virginia with affiliations across the U.S. Along the way, they quietly provided individual scholarships each year to high school students in the Richmond area. In 2006, they formalized their scholarship giving with an initial $1 million gift to create VCU’s Trani Scholars Program, which provides support to exceptional undergraduate applicants who wish to pursue studies in engineering, life sciences or health sciences.
“Ken has a wonderful perspective on friendships, understands the importance of looking after people and is always modest as he reflects on the many opportunities in his life,” said Mickey Dowdy, chief development officer at the VCU School of Engineering. “Now he wants to leverage what he built and use it to create opportunities for others. Ken Wright knew he could do that with an engineering scholarship program because he has seen how we engage with our students in ways that provide many levels of support and encouragement. The impact of this gift is transformational. There are young people standing outside of the VCU School of Engineering not knowing today that they will be able to come here. They will be able to now because of the Wright Engineering Access Scholarship.”
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