The Oregonian: PSU Honors Program gets a $1 million lift
Author: Jillian Daley, Special to The Oregonian
Posted: January 2, 2013

Read the original story in The Oregonian here. 


A $1 million boost to a Portland State University program benefits academic aces and delivers the third-largest gift for a scholarship endowment in the institution's history.

The Rose E. Tucker Charitable Trust award to the University Honors Program, which offers special studies to top students, also will help create a laboratory, support employees and aid in recruitment efforts.

Such a high-profile investment will increase enrollment, improve the reputation of the entire university and help the Portland area, said PSU President Wim Wiewel.

Most "of our students come from here and stay here, so if you want to improve our community this is the way to do it," Wiewel said.

Half of the donation, $500,000, will go to a scholarship endowment, and so will the $500,000 in matching money the university must raise. The fund drive begins now.

PSU will receive the other half of the gift over five years, $100,000 annually. About half of that money is earmarked for student research, student-led global seminars, internships and scholarships.

Scholarships open doors, said Portland State University junior Tabatha Memmott, who recently landed a prestigious McNair Scholars Program award with the help of her Honors Program professors and PSU staff.

The program "isn't about creating an elitist space where people are treated differently," Memmott said. "This is about creating access."

As an independent student, the 21-year-old needed that chance. Her adoptive parents died when she was a teenager, and her biological parents "aren't in the picture," she said.

She maintains a grade point of average of 3.4, despite her struggles and taking classes such as Calculus 3 and organic chemistry.

As a biology and public health education major, Memmott is well on her way toward medical school and her dream career as a physician-scientist. She said she has her professors to thank for her continued success.

Some $110,000 of the donation will go toward recruiting more students like her. The Honors Program, which offers advanced classes for undergraduates, already is attracting more members, expanding from 161 students in 2008 to 343 students this year, a 113 percent increase.

Classrooms all over PSU are filling up, with undergraduate enrollment rising from 18,012 in 2006 to 23,170 this past fall, a 29 percent jump, PSU records show.

Wiewel credits the recent Honors Program growth to Ann Marie Fallon, who became the program's director in fall 2011.

"A lot of it comes from more concerted recruitment efforts," Fallon said.

The program is still too small a portion of PSU's total population, said Fallon, who also wrote the proposal for the Rose E. Tucker gift.

Fallon will get more time to spend on fundraising and program development because $20,000, spread over the five years, will be used to pay another faculty member to teach one of her six classes. In addition, $15,000 of the donation will be used to attract visiting scholars. 

Also, $25,000 will pay for managing the trust, and $75,000 will fund the creation of an Honors Urban Ecology Lab on campus and an upgrade of the Honors Program's building, a three-story house built in 1893.


No one is more excited about the new teaching lab than Igor Lacan, a professor of urban ecology. Lacan has a small lab he uses and, for his students, the main options are doing fieldwork or borrowing space and equipment for a couple of hours at a time. It's hard for students to perform long-term research.

"It has worked relatively well, but it would be better to have our own space," he said.

The Honors Program, founded in 1969, could add even more amenities in the future. There is talk of turning the Honors Program into an Honors College. A college has greater institutional standing and more independence, Fallon said.

Whether it's a college or a program, it offers something crucial to students such as Memmott, Fallon said.

"It really helps students who didn't know how smart they are and how much they could do, to have someone believe in them," she said.

-- Jillian Daley