Keiko Miwa Ross, a State College resident and Penn State’s 2020 Philanthropist of the Year, has made new gifts that deepen connections between the University Park campus and the community. In celebration of her gifts, the University has named, in her honor, the Student Farm, a program of the Penn State Sustainability Institute; the WPSU Production Studio; and the Study Center in the Tombros and McWhirter Knowledge Commons in the University Libraries.
“Dr. Ross has embraced and embodied our land-grant mission to serve our community as well as our students, and she is a true philanthropic leader both for the ‘Greater Penn State’ campaign and for all Penn Staters,” said University President Eric Barron. “Her support is all the more remarkable because she has chosen to support Penn State not as a graduate of our institution, but as a member of the public who has experienced firsthand the way that the University shapes countless lives in our region and beyond. The spaces that will bear her name also bear witness to her extraordinary vision and generosity.”
The Dr. Keiko Miwa Ross Student Farm
Each of the newly named spaces represents a connection that Ross has formed with the University Park campus. From her home in the Village at Penn State, Ross has been able to watch the growth of the nearby Student Farm, established in 2016 to give Penn State students an opportunity for hands-on learning about the challenges and the impact of creating sustainable food systems. Under the auspices of the Sustainability Institute, the Student Farm supplies harvests from its current one-acre plot to Penn State Dining and the Lion’s Pantry, and it offers shares of produce to the community. The Village at Penn State has also formed a relationship with the Student Farm, purchasing produce and arranging volunteer days and tours for its residents. Ross was introduced to the farm and its students through these connections, and her enthusiasm for the project resulted in a $2 million commitment to name the Dr. Keiko Miwa Ross Student Farm at Penn State.
“Dr. Ross has made her gift at a critical moment for both the farm and for a post-COVID society,” said Penn State Chief Sustainability Officer Paul Shrivastava. “Human health is directly tied to the health of our agricultural systems, and the students who both learn and teach at the farm will lead the way in ensuring an abundant, safe, and sustainable food supply. The support from Dr. Ross will help us to better prepare them for the road ahead, and it will allow us to capitalize on the University’s recent commitment to expand the farm’s footprint and operations.”
Leslie Pillen, who directs the Sustainable Food Systems Program within the Sustainability Institute and who works directly with the students who operate the farm, said, “Our mission is to grow food, leaders, and communities. Dr. Ross’s gift will give us the resources to pursue all three of these goals, and it communicates to the students, who work so hard for the farm’s success, that their efforts are recognized and appreciated. As we look to expand the Student Farm concept beyond the three locations where we currently operate — University Park, Penn State Behrend, and Penn State Beaver — we believe that Dr. Ross will inspire both students and other donors to invest in sustainable agriculture for their campuses and communities.”
The Dr. Keiko Miwa Ross WPSU Production Studio
Ross has also invested an additional $1 million to ensure that those communities have access to top-quality public television far into the future. By naming the Dr. Keiko Miwa Ross WPSU Production Studio, she builds upon her past support for the station, including a gift last year to replace the aging WPSU transmitter. Much of WPSU’s original content, including President Barron’s series “Digging Deeper,” is produced in the studio, located at Innovation Park in State College. The studio itself will bear her name, and she will also be honored in on-air spots during programs that Ross, a longtime supporter and advocate of public broadcasting, especially values.
“The gifts that Dr. Ross has made to WPSU will allow us to better serve audiences with pioneering cultural and educational offerings that reflect the interests and needs of our region,” said Vice President for Outreach Tracey DeBlase Huston. “Her support is affirmation of our mission to serve, inform, and entertain the more than half a million households we reach through our programming, and for these Pennsylvanians as well as for the entire WPSU team, her name will be synonymous with excellence in public broadcasting.”
The Dr. Keiko Miwa Ross Study Center
Ross has also supported informed citizenship and lifelong learning through her support of the University Libraries. Her most recent gift has created a $350,000 endowment to fund acquisitions and subscriptions to international publications and media. Ross has frequently made use of these resources, and she is a regular visitor to the Dr. Keiko Miwa Ross Study Center in the Tombros and McWhirter Knowledge Commons, where fifty computer terminals and IT support staff are available to both students and members of the public. The visibility of this space, which is used thousands of times a year, made it an ideal location to name in honor of Ross, according to Barbara I. Dewey, dean of University Libraries and scholarly communications.
“The Dr. Keiko Miwa Ross Study Center is an important point of connection between our community, all the resources that we offer, and the larger world,” said Dewey. “I am delighted that the University Libraries now have both outdoor space, in the form of the Dr. Keiko Miwa Ross Garden Terrace, and indoor space that celebrate her commitment to an informed and educated citizenry.”
Philanthropy across the University from an educational pioneer
Earlier this year, Ross was honored for her transformational philanthropy with Penn State’s Philanthropist of the Year award. Her support to areas across the University Park campus includes a $7.5 million gift to the new landmark Palmer Museum of Art building, which pushed the project to its initial $13.9 million fundraising goal. Currently slated to open in 2023 pending Board of Trustees approval, the building will feature two spaces named for Ross: the lobby and a unique, elevated and glass-enclosed corridor that will connect the facility’s main building to its education and administration wing and frame a gateway that will welcome visitors to both the museum and the adjacent Arboretum at Penn State. Within the Arboretum, Ross has made a significant gift to the Pollinator and Bird Garden, set to open next year.
Born and raised in Japan, Ross was an educational pioneer in her native country. In 1952, Japanese college education was opened for women for the first time in history, and Ross was among the nation’s first female undergraduates. She completed her education in the United States, however, first receiving her bachelor of arts degree and, later, her master’s and doctoral degrees in education from universities in Washington State.
Back in Japan, while she was teaching college in Kobe and living in Nishinomiya, Ross worked for a sister-city affiliate program between Nishinomiya and the City of Spokane, Washington, where she had lived during school, and in 1965 she received honorary citizenship from the mayor of Spokane. In 1974, she worked for former U.S. President Gerald Ford during his visit to Japan, receiving a Presidential Certificate of Appreciation.
During one of these special assignments — as an official hostess for foreign dignitaries at Expo ’70, the world’s fair in Osaka — she met S. Thomas Ross, director of an American-Japanese joint venture company. They were married the following year and lived in Japan until 1977, when Thomas was assigned to New York. Keiko subsequently became an American citizen and, while working for the U.S. Department of State, was able to visit all 50 states. The Rosses ultimately settled at the Village at Penn State, and Thomas passed away in 2013.
“Penn State has done so much to make me and other State College citizens feel welcome and valued, and to help us stay connected to the world beyond Centre County,” said Ross. “The Student Farm, WPSU-TV, and the University Libraries have all become an important part of my experience here, and I know that they matter to many others, too. I am very glad to give back to the University and support the programs which make this institution and this community truly unique.”
Ross’s philanthropy will advance “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by serving communities and fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.