Penn State University: Penn State Philanthropists of the Year make transformational gift for students

When Gene and Roz Chaiken were named Penn State’s Philanthropists of the Year for 2021, no one dreamed that another gift — one surpassing the combined total of their previous support — was in the works.

The Chaikens knew better.

Just one day before Penn State’s 2021 holiday break, the longtime benefactors announced their largest gift to date, a single commitment that dramatically increases the Chaiken Family Trustee Scholarship endowment in the College of the Liberal Arts and covers the balance of their pledges for other student-related funds including the Chaiken Center for Student Success endowment and the Chaiken Centennial Graduate Endowment. While the Chaikens have asked that the amount of their gift not be disclosed, their support will ensure that future generations of liberal arts students will have what has always mattered most to Gene and Roz: the opportunity to afford a Penn State education.

The gift also offers the Chaikens the opportunity to honor Susan Welch, former dean of the College of the Liberal Arts, who served as dean for 28 years before returning to the political science faculty full time in 2019. At the Chaikens’ request, the Penn State Board of Trustees agreed to name the college’s soon-to-be-constructed building the Susan Welch Liberal Arts Building.

“Gene and Roz Chaiken are an extraordinary couple,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “Motivated by a profound desire to give more students access to a Penn State education, they have been generous beyond compare. This new gift is astounding in its magnitude, both because of the generations of students who will benefit from it and also because it permanently cements the legacy of Susan Welch, under whose leadership the College of the Liberal Arts grew in strength, scope and impact. All of Penn State is grateful for the spirit of giving that burns so brightly in Gene and Roz Chaiken.”

“In recognition of the Chaikens’ transformational gift, members of the Board of Trustees unanimously agreed to name the new building after Susan Welch, whose impact on the College of the Liberal Arts is undeniable,” said Penn State Board Chair Matthew Schuyler. “Generations of Penn Staters will benefit from the Chaikens’ perennial generosity. We are deeply grateful for all they have done for the University.”

As of December 2021, the Chaiken Trustee Scholarships, the first of which was established in 2008, had awarded 987 student scholarships totaling approximately $6.2 million. With the influx of funds from the Chaikens’ new gift, approximately 160 liberal arts students per year will receive $10,000 scholarships, which at current rates represents slightly more than half of in-state tuition.

“We made the gift because we wanted to do more for the students,” said Gene, a 1962 Penn State business alumnus who believes in the power of the liberal arts. “We wanted to set something up for a long, long time so that more students who deserve to be at Penn State but can’t afford to go will be given the opportunity to go. We really wanted to make a major impact.”

“Gene and I discussed it, and it was very important for us to carry on our commitment to the students,” Roz added. “That’s what Penn State is all about – the education of students – and that’s what’s most important to us.”

The full gift is the largest one-time gift received by an academic unit and makes the Chaikens the most generous scholarship donors, and the fourth-largest donors overall, in Penn State history. They are now the second-largest living Penn State donors, after Terry and Kim Pegula, whose $88 million gift in 2010 and subsequent $14 million gift in 2012 led to the construction of the Pegula Ice Arena and the elevation of Penn State’s hockey teams to Division 1 status.

The 142,000-square-foot Susan Welch Liberal Arts Building, scheduled for construction beginning in August 2022 pending Board of Trustees approval, is expected to open in fall 2024. It will house many of the college’s social science institutes and departments, including the Department of Political Science, where Welch is a faculty member. Since the majority of Penn State students take classes in the liberal arts, the building will benefit students across the University.

“It wasn’t important to us at all to have a building named after us,” Roz said. “Susan has done so much for the college and the University, and we wanted to honor her by having the building carry her name.”

“Roz and I were first introduced to Susan in the 1990s,” Gene said, noting that Welch inspired their first major gift to Penn State — the Chaiken Family Chair in Jewish Studies — which the Chaikens made along with Gene’s brother, Sheldon, and his wife, Gail. “The more we worked with Susan, the more we realized what a real human being and dynamic leader she is. She has done so much for the liberal arts, making it a much better college than when she first arrived. This is our way of saying ‘thank you.’”

“I can hardly express how I felt when Gene called me about their magnificent gift,” Welch said. “I was thrilled to hear that Gene and Roz’s generosity will benefit liberal arts students in perpetuity, and I was touched and honored that they wanted our new building to be named after me. Gene and Roz are wonderful members of the liberal arts family; we have worked together over many years. I am privileged to know them and privileged that they wish to honor me this way.”

Comments are closed.