Current Issue: Spring 2014

Transformative Power of Education

"The impact of endowed chairs for faculty on an institution's ability
to educate students and advance fields cannot be overstated."
— Mary McRae, Vice President for University Advancement

by Daniel DiPrinzio

Throughout its history, Arcadia University has transformed the lives of its students, many of whom go on to transform the lives of younger generations. A prime example of how transformative the University can be is found in the story of Walter and Rosemary Deniken Blankley ’57 ’06H, who, in addition to their extraordinary generosity to Arcadia throughout the years, have recently supplied a million-dollar gift to establish an endowed chair in the School of Education, the first endowed chair in the School’s history.

Walter and Rosemary Deniken Blankley ’57 ’06H

Paving the way

Nearly 60 years ago, Walter and Rosemary met at New Jersey’s Collingswood High School. At that time, according to the U.S. Census, the number of students with a bachelor’s degree hovered only a bit above five percent, even with veterans taking advantage of the G.I. Bill. Walter and Rosemary did not think college was attainable until both secured scholarships—Walter from Princeton University, Rosemary from Beaver College.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in physical health and education, Rosemary returned to her high school to teach and coach, fitting for an athlete who was asked to join the U.S. Field Hockey team as a student at Beaver. Walter embarked on a career that eventually culminated in positions as President, Chief Executive Officer, and Chairman of Ametek, a global manufacturer of electronic motors and electronic instruments where he spent 41 years. During his time at Ametek, Walter directed the company’s philanthropic efforts toward earlychildhood development and reading programs in the 65 countries where Ametek maintained plants.

To this day, Walter and Rosemary, who were the first in their families to attend college, credit their higher education experiences as life-changing chapters of their lives.

“Walter and I obviously have a deep affection for education, since that was the basis of our success,” Rosemary said. “Reading was a very important part of that success, and we have a strong affection for early-childhood education.”

The first scholarship the Blankleys established was at their high school. As their careers advanced, their charitable giving expanded; one needs to simply tour Arcadia’s campus to see the impact the Blankleys have had on the University with Blankley Alumni House and Blankley Field. Now, the endowed chair will play a crucial role in faculty recruitment and development.

“The impact of endowed chairs for faculty on an institution’s ability to educate students and advance fields cannot be overstated,” said Mary McRae, Vice President for University Advancement. “To put it simply, if we want to continue to attract, recruit, and retain the best faculty and scholars, we need endowed chairs. This gift is a huge step toward joining the ranks of the top universities in the world.”

Endowed Chair

An endowed chair is a crucial tool in recruiting, supporting, and retaining the best faculty at colleges and universities. The funding provided by a chair is typically used to attract an expert in a particular field and supports his or her research, teaching, and service activities—all in an effort to make significant advancements in a field of study or toward solving societal or scientific issues.

When a chair is created, the gift’s interest is used to provide financial support beyond salary for a particular faculty member, who is designated as the endowed chair for his or her tenure at the University. Endowed chairs not only bestow honor upon a faculty member but also enhance the prestige and academic standing of an institution, making it more attractive for potential faculty and students.

Blankley Scholars Dulce Morales ’16, Adriana Villaneuva ’16

Coming to Arcadia University was something that looked more like a dream than a possibility before I was awarded the Blankley Scholarship."
— Adriana Villanueva ’16,
Blankley Scholar

“More like a dream than a possibility”

For some, education is the key to the American Dream. For others, education itself is the dream.

Growing up in Immokalee, Fla., Adriana Villaneuva ’16 assumed she would go to college. After all, that’s what students in the United States did. But as she progressed through high school, that assumption drifted farther away from her until it was just beyond her reach, the cost of higher education the obstacle in her way. It was not until Villaneuva heard about an Arcadia scholarship program through the Guadalupe Center—where she worked as a tutor—that higher education came back into view.

“Coming to Arcadia University was something that looked more like a dream than a possibility before I was awarded the Blankley scholarship,” Villaneuva said.

Named in honor of the Blankleys and funded by Arcadia, the Blankley Scholars program provides three students in the Guadalupe Center’s Tutor Corps full, fouryear scholarships to Arcadia University each year. Villaneuva was among the first three Blankley Scholars, who entered Arcadia in fall 2012.

A collegiate opportunity is not common to residents of Immokalee, an agricultural community that produces about 90 percent of the nation’s tomatoes harvested during winter months. As of 2011, only 32 percent of Immokalee residents 25 years and older had a high school diploma, and only 3.6 percent had a bachelor’s degree or higher. The median household income stood at a little over $24,000. Villanueva, for instance, is not only the first person in her family to go to college, but the first person to graduate high school.

“For me, being the first member of my family to go to college is both an honor and a responsibility,” said Villaneuva, who majors in English/pre-law. “I have to succeed so that my younger siblings have a role model to look up to. It’s important for them to know that if I can do something good in my life, it is possible for them to do something even better.”

The Blankleys first became involved with the Guadalupe Center upon Walter’s retirement in 2001, when the couple relocated to Florida. The Center aims to break the cycle of poverty through educational, social, and other support programs, which aligns with the Blankleys’ personal philosophy.

The Center focuses on what it refers to as the “most critical periods of a child’s education: early childhood, closing the achievement gap, and college success.” Each year, more than 100 high school students apply to the Center’s prestigious college-readiness program, Tutor Corps; the Center accepts about 20. Tutor Corps students earn a wage while mentoring and tutoring kindergartners to second graders in after-school programs. The Center reports that 100 percent of students in the Tutor Corps program have graduated from high school and were accepted to college.

With the Blankleys serving as a link between Arcadia and the Guadalupe Center, Arcadia students have traveled to Immokalee in recent years to assist impoverished families. Moreover, last year, in recognition for their work with the Center, the Association of Fundraising Professionals named the Blankleys 2012 Philanthropists of the Year for Collier County, Fla.

“Rosemary and Walter Blankley’s dedication to Beaver College and Arcadia University has never wavered,” said Dr. Jan Walbert, Vice President for Alumni Relations and Annual Giving in the University Advancement division at Arcadia. “This endowed chair demonstrates their lasting commitment to Arcadia and to education at all levels. The first endowed chair for the School of Education will always be a significant step in our growth as an institution and will be a beacon for our students, faculty, and alumni.”

The educational opportunities that afforded Walter and Rosemary life-changing experiences at Princeton and Beaver have led to their being able to transform a countless number of lives at Arcadia, the Guadalupe Center, and many other community organizations and schools. When education is truly transformative, it goes far beyond just the individual who is directly affected, with a pay-it-forward circle that influences many elements of society.

"What a vote of confidence!"

There is a kind of symmetry in the fact that the Blankleys, two first-generation college students, have helped to establish the endowed chair, which will provide invaluable resources in terms of research, teaching, and service activities.

“Rather than wait until we pass away, we wanted do something before that,” said Walter. “One of the basic reasons is that we are trying to set an example to encourage other people to step up and support the University.”

Dr. Leif Gustavson, Interim Dean, School of Education

"This gift is just so energizing and inspiring. It pushes and challenges us to be our best."
— Dr. Leif Gustavson, Interim Dean, School of Education

Dr. Leif Gustavson, Interim Dean of the School of Education, notes how the endowed chair will provide a faculty member with essential resources to explore a particular research interest and in turn, enrich his or her students, the School of Education, and the external community. The chair also honors the intellectual and creative strength of the School of Education’s faculty while laying down a welcomed challenge to live up to the standards associated with it.

“This gift is just so energizing and inspiring,” Gustavson said. “It pushes and challenges us to be our best. And it says that the Blankleys trust us; they believe in what we are doing, and they want to support us. What a vote of confidence!”

The School of Education has long been known for its success in teacher preparation at the regional and national level. This past year, 11 of the 59 teachers listed in The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Distinguished Teachers list were graduates of Arcadia, representing positions at eight high schools, two military academies, and one charter school. In addition, in a report issued in June by the National Council on Teacher Quality, Arcadia was ranked in the top nine percent of 1,200 elementary and secondary education programs for its teacher preparation. The inaugural report gave Arcadia Honor Roll status for its undergraduate programs that prepare students for teaching positions in secondary schools.

The School of Education focuses on three guiding principles: igniting students to teach, learn, and lead; immersing them in a deep practice of teaching; and providing them with excellent mentoring and coaching that extends beyond students’ years on campus.

“The development of a teacher doesn’t end at the end of the program,” explained Gustavson. “That coaching and mentoring needs to continue beyond the years they are with us in their program.”

This vital contact with alumni helps teachers develop, and the School of Education uses social media, on-campus colloquia, and direct communication between professors and alumni as ways to help Arcadia education graduates continue to grow.

“One thing we hear continually from our partner schools is that our students and alumni are incredibly well-prepared for being a first-year teacher or stepping into a school leadership role because of the nature of our program,” Gustavson said. Moreover, Gustavson believes the Blankley’s gift will help propel Arcadia as an international leader in teacher preparation programs.

Chief Operating Officer Dr. Nicolette DeVille Christensen said the Blankleys’ support of Arcadia and their recent gift go far beyond a simple endorsement or a validation of the School of Education’s mission.

“It is almost impossible to quantify the impact that Walter and Rosemary have had on the University,” said Dr. Christensen. “Suffice to say that Arcadia would not be the institution it is without their support. Their generosity illustrates the faith that our donors have in the School of Education and our faculty.”

“You never hear about people becoming doctors in our newspapers”

Dulce Morales ’16 never thought about college until she got to high school. She worked in the Tutor Corps program from her sophomore through her senior year at Immokalee High School and assumed that, if she were to enroll at a college or university, it would be one in her home state of Florida. In fact, she had participated in a summer program at the University of Florida, which gave her the confidence to want to pursue higher education. But the cost was still daunting, and without the Blankley Scholars program, college would not have been feasible.

While there was a bit of an adjustment period for Morales in attending a university so far away from home, Morales gushed about her first-year experience at Arcadia, which included a spring Preview experience in Rome and eye-opening courses.

“Preview was my first time out of North America. I couldn’t believe how beautiful Rome is and how different it is from here. Learning about the culture and the history was great. My courses on female struggles with Latin America opened my eyes to all of the problems women face with rights and how in other countries they still struggle,” Morales said.

A biology/pre-med major, Morales, who along with Villanueva and Juan Delgado ’16 (a criminal justice/pre-law major) comprise the first trio of Tutor Corps students, would like to enroll in medical school after graduating from Arcadia, possibly to study dermatology. Such a career would be something of a positive and inspiring anomaly in her hometown of Immokalee.

“You never hear about people becoming doctors in our newspapers,” said Morales. “I think people would be surprised, proud, and happy.”

The Blankleys have long espoused that the major focus of their philanthropy is education. While they realize that nothing is a panacea for all of the ills of society, they know from personal experience and from seeing the impact they have had on communities and organizations that the more educational opportunities an individual is afforded, the better chance that person can positively impact the lives of others.

“We believe that education is the one vehicle we can support that we know has a positive impact on some of the issues we face in the world today,” Walter said. “We don’t have all of the answers to all of the societal issues, but we think that education can help break the cycle of poverty.”

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