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Impact of Giving: Robert Mercer
Impact of Giving: Robert Mercer

The gifts come every month—to the Italian Studies Endowment, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies and the Charles M. White Endowed Scholarship.

Robert Mercer, assistant dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has given steadily, month after month, year after year, supporting departments and scholarships he values.

Each gift is an expression of gratitude for those who influenced his education, career, and life.

“You can see the pattern,” Mercer says. “It’s about people. It’s about people who changed my life for the better. And from the beginning, I felt no less a part of their community because I was giving 25 bucks a month, compared to someone who could afford 100,000 bucks.”

Mercer, who is 59 and a Portland native, has been a fixture on campus since the mid-70s, when he began his bachelor’s degree in history. Later, he earned a master’s in English and has worked in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences since 1992.

Through the years, he’s developed deep friendships all across campus, many of which have guided his philanthropy. He contributes to Italian Studies because that’s where he reconnected to the language his mother spoke at home. He taught gay and lesbian fiction in what was then the Women’s Studies Department. And the Charles M. White Endowed Scholarship is named after Mercer’s mentor and friend, who taught history at PSU for 54 years.

Mercer has also contributed to the James R. Nattinger Scholarship Fund, named after the late professor who helped start PSU’s Department of Applied Linguistics and was Mercer’s graduate advisor. The Bernard V. Burke Endowed Scholarship Fund is named in honor of one of Mercer’s favorite history professors.

Mercer helped launch Portland State’s Last Mile program, identifying students who were near graduation when they dropped out and providing them with financial support to help them return and complete their degree. With faculty and staff assistance, the program has helped more than 500 students graduate since 2010.

It also inspired the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Last Mile Award. Thanks to generous donors, this award provides financial support to help CLAS students clear unexpected financial hurdles and complete their degrees.

Ultimately, for Mercer, his giving will never match the gratitude he has for Portland State. “My aspirations for giving far exceed my paycheck,” Mercer says. “No matter how much I give to the Charlie White scholarship, it will never balance what he did for my life.”


For more about giving to the CLAS Last Mile Award and other scholarships in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, please contact Karie Trumbo, Development Officer, 503-725-2298,