Two Penn State alumni recently pledged to donate $2 million to the College of Education and the College of the Liberal Arts.
Kevin and Susan O'Leary's donation will fund awards for innovative teaching as well as an early career professorship in history.
The donation will "also support future graduate students who are pursuing research in vitally important areas like the teaching of reading and the impact of emerging technologies on how learners of all ages gain insights and acquire understanding," Dean of the College of Education David Monk said, according to a Penn State Live press release.
Since the gift will not come into fruition until the donors' death, more specific plans for the money's use will be subject to departmental needs at the time it is received, Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts Susan Welch wrote in an email.
Susan O'Leary said that the strong emphasis that is placed on research at many universities can often cause educators to place less emphasis on the instruction of students.
Kevin O'Leary said the couple wanted to support young professors by mitigating the pressure to focus on research with some form of acknowledgement for the efforts that they make in the classroom.
In an email, Welch wrote that though the college receives many gifts to support outstanding faculty, they have received much less support for teaching awards.
"This is only the second [donation for excellence in teaching] in my years here, the first given last spring by Mal and Lea Bank to honor outstanding teaching by a tenured faculty member," Welch wrote.
She added that since undergraduates at Penn State spend about 30 percent of their credit hours in liberal arts on average, the quality of the college, the kind of faculty it has and the job they do in teaching affects every student.
Although Kevin O'Leary, Class of 1971, currently owns a commercial fishing operation called the Sunrunner Alaska Corporation and is a partner in Alaskan Leader Fisheries, he majored in history while attending Penn State.
He said that while his studies in renaissance and reformation history have not necessarily translated to commercial fishing, the critical thinking skills he developed through his education have been very important both in his personal and business life.
"The skills one learns in that broad liberal arts education certainly enhanced my career," Kevin said. "The ability to express myself both in writing and verbally, the ability to sort through data and mine the important things, all those kinds of general broad liberal arts capacities certainly have had an influence in my life."
Susan O'Leary, Class of 1971, majored in elementary education during her time at Penn State.
During the winter months when the O'Learys are in Arizona, she mentors foster children, as well as providing one-on-one tutoring to local elementary school students.
"Of all the disciplines, reading is my passion, and I'm very active in trying to get children to read at an early age," Susan said. "In today's age with so much of the electronic world invading on some of that free reading time, it's a concern. That was some of the reason I want to promote teachers."
Susan and Kevin O'Leary said that since the start of their success and their relationship was at Penn State, they wanted to support continuing educators who will foster students in the classroom and mentor them to be successful.
"We had a wonderful experience there, and certainly we feel that the transition we made [at the university] was one that was facilitated both intellectually and socially," Kevin said. "We feel a real gratitude to the university for our whole experience there."