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Giving: Winter 2013
Author: Tanya Gross
Posted: February 4, 2013

LEFT: Travis Knight '98 (far right), receives the Alumni Achievement Award. He is joined by (left to right) parents Penny and Phil Knight and wife Donna Knight '99.
MIDDLE: Stephanie Fowler and Irving Levin pose with actress Diane Keaton. Fowler and Levin won Simon Benson Awards for funding student scholarships.
RIGHT: Jordan Schnitzer accepts Simon Benson Awards from President Wim Wiewel for himself and his mother, Arlene Schnitzer, recognizing their longtime philanthropy.

Honoring those who give and achieve

A RECORD $1 MILLION was raised and Stephanie Fowler, Irving Levin, Arlene Schnitzer, Jordan Schnitzer, and Travis Knight were honored at the Simon Benson Awards Dinner in October.

Nearly 1,700 people turned out to celebrate the award recipients and listen to actress Diane Keaton, keynote speaker. The event owed much of its success to co-chairs Kimberly Cooper and Ken Thrasher. The Maybelle Clark Macdonald Fund matched $100,000 in scholarship gifts, raising a total of $270,300 for scholarships.

At the event, PSU President Wim Wiewel announced that Levin and Fowler have funded a new Graduate School of Education scholarship. More than 60 students have benefited from a University-wide scholarship the couple previously created.

Levin is executive chairman of Genesis Financial Solutions and chairman of Digital Divide Data. Fowler is an award-winning journalist and psychotherapist.

Jordan Schnitzer, president of Harsch Investment Properties, his mother, Arlene, and his late father, Harold Schnitzer, have been philanthropic forces in Oregon for decades. The Schnitzer family has contributed more than $1.6 million to PSU, making it possible to hire the first tenured faculty member in Judaic Studies, and also create the James DePreist Visiting Professorship in Ethnic Art.

Knight '98, winner of the Alumni Achievement Award, is president and CEO of Laika, the Hillsboro animation studio that produced the films Coraline and ParaNorman. Knight earned a bachelor's degree in social science from Portland State. His wife, Donna, is also a PSU graduate. Read more about Knight here.


Scholarships change lives

Doctoral student and Maseeh Fellow Ryan Jenson (left) monitors International Space Station astronauts in real time as they run his experiments. Angela Rico-Rairan could not complete her political science degree without the support of a PSU President's Equal Access Scholarship.




A UNIVERSITY EDUCATION opens doors and transforms lives. It teaches students to think critically and prepare professionally. Student Angela Rico-Rairan plans a legal career after she graduates, and doctoral student Ryan Jenson applies his engineering skills to research on the International Space Station. Both are succeeding thanks to PSU scholarship support. "The fact that someone cared about me and believed in me, that was a huge boost," says Rico-Rairan.

In the wake of higher education budget cuts, many students are borrowing more money and carrying more debt to pay for school. Nearly 50 percent of PSU students are trailblazers like Rico-Rairan—the first in their family to attend college. For these students in particular, scholarship support is vital. That's why President Wim Wiewel has made scholarships a top fundraising priority.

Working toward the law

"YOU CAN DO IT, and here's how—with a lot of hard work," a PSU adviser told Rico-Rairan. The "it" was her goal to practice criminal law as a district attorney.

Rico-Rairan is no stranger to hard work. In 2004, when she and her family arrived in Oregon from Colombia, she was 13 and spoke no English. She rapidly acquired the language and did well in school. In an effort to lessen her accent, she taped TV news and imitated the anchor's pronunciation.

That same drive underscores her college career. She works full-time in Gov. John Kitzhaber's education policy office to help support her family and attends school part time. She almost had to drop out when her mother lost her job. Instead, she landed a scholarship.

Rico-Rairan credits the scholarship with keeping her on track. "Without it, I would not have the opportunities I have right now," she says. "I'm so grateful!"

This school year, PSU awarded more than $2.9 million in donor-funded scholarships, providing 958 students with an average award of $3,123. But with nearly 30,000 students, PSU's scholarship endowment does not meet the need.

"While we are the largest University in this state, we do not have the scholarship funds we need to serve students," says Wiewel.

Experimenting in space

SOME KIDS blow things up for fun. Ryan Jenson's mayhem had a purpose. "I was always making things, breaking things, launching rockets, setting off fireworks. I was driven to understand how things work," he says.

For high-achieving students, scholarships may be the deciding factor in choosing PSU over another institution. When students choose PSU, they often stay in the area—contributing knowledge and skills to the region.

Jenson grew up in Eagle Creek, enrolled at Clackamas Community College at 14, and graduated at 19 from PSU with a bachelor's in mechanical engineering. He began his master's degree at Stanford but returned to PSU after one term to work with Professor Mark Weislogel. A 2007 Maseeh Fellowship helped with tuition. Now Jenson holds a master's degree in mechanical engineering from PSU and is working toward his doctorate. He and Weislogel have experiments on board the International Space Station.

"Astronauts are testing our systems that manage fluids by way of capillary action," explains Jenson. "Capillary systems reduce weight, cost, system complexity, and are more reliable than pumps or centrifuges."

Like all good space experiments, this one has practical applications back on Earth. He and Weislogel are partners in a company that is developing products ranging from high-tech candles to biological diagnostic tools.