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Eckerd College launches new Innovation Fund to support strategic initiatives

By Robbyn Hopewell
Published March 2, 2021
Categories: About Eckerd, Academics, Stewardship, Sustainability, Waterfront

Open-air classrooms like this one have become part of the College’s distinctive excellence. Photo: Angelique Herring ’19

Literal and figurative seeds are being sown across the campus of Eckerd College as President Damián J. Fernández announced on March 2 that a brand-new Innovation Fund to support strategic initiatives has raised $2.7 million toward its $10 million goal.

Backed by the Eckerd College Board of Trustees, the Innovation Fund will provide starting costs for major initiatives, capital projects, and new staff and faculty positions that undergird the four pillars of President Fernández’s vision for the College’s (Re)Foundational Imperative formulated from research, community conversations and observations during his first few months in office. Every dollar of the fund will be put toward establishing more distinctive excellence, transformational student experiences, social impact and sustainability priorities.

Each of the pillars—Eckerd at the Edges: Innovation in the Liberal Arts and Sciences for Our Times; The City as Classroom, the Campus as Laboratory; Inclusive Excellence: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging; and A Sustainable Future: Pursuing Resilience—addresses major parts of the College’s strategic planning process.

Most of the initial gifts have come from current trustees and friends of the College whose belief in the pillars and special connections to our 188-acre campus go beyond a four-year stay. Two of the first donations were given in memory of family members lost, but never forgotten.

Shortly after losing his sister, Cari, President Fernández’s family—his son, Julián, his mother, his brother and sister-in-law and their children, and his niece, Lauren—decided to honor her life by making a gift to establish an endowed scholarship for first-generation women of color to attend Eckerd College.

“Cari, who was born in Cuba and was a first-generation college student, would be pleased to know that proceeds from the Cari Fernández Endowed Scholarship will contribute to the institutional imperative of enhancing diversity,” said President Fernández. “A diverse educational experience is key to making Eckerd representative of and of service to the ‘New America,’ and that means bringing students in, putting resources on the table, and building the scaffolding necessary for success. It can be done, but it requires some institutional reengineering and commitment.”

Doug, Mary and Jill Scovanner had been searching for a way to honor their son and brother, Tim Scovanner ’11, after he passed away in 2016. While considering all the options, a trip to the waterfront on campus made clear that a project in this area—one Tim had so many fond memories of—would make him the proudest. After hearing about Eckerd College’s innovative use of outdoor classroom spaces to creatively combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the Scovanner family increased an initial pledge to $1 million to build an outdoor classroom/pavilion area near Kappa Field.

“Tim’s Eckerd experience was shaped by its vital community—friends, faculty, classes and time spent on the waterfront,” the Scovanner family said. “It is our hope the Pavilion will become a place of gathering, sharing, fun and support for all of the Eckerd community past, present and future.”

In addition to these gifts, the Eckerd College Board of Trustees was asked to participate as individuals in contributing to the fund to move the College forward. To date, 100% of board members have contributed to projects ranging from faculty and staff positions to seed money for a campus farm.

Fund initiatives that will launch this semester include:

  • The College began the search process for a new Director of Inclusive Excellence—responsible for leading Eckerd College’s efforts to be an exemplar of strengthening diversity, uplifting equity and honoring inclusion—with the help of a $300,000 gift from a longstanding trustee.
  • A gift of $200,000 from Trustee John Saunders ’71 will provide support to explore new interdisciplinary programs.
  • Eckerd College will soon have an on-campus produce farm where students can learn firsthand about sustainability practices thanks to $200,000 in gifts, including a $125,000 commitment from Trustee Board Chair Ian Johnson ’89.
  • More than $240,000 has been committed to establish the St. Petersburg Center for Engaged Citizenship and Social Impact, a new center aimed at strengthening Eckerd’s ties with the neighboring community and giving students the chance to view the city as a classroom.
  • A new Pre-Doctoral Fellowship for Scholars from Marginalized Groups has been established with an initial $52,000 gift from Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College member Virginia Oppenheimer.
  • Collectively, more than $300,000 has been committed to scholarships for students from marginalized communities.

In his announcement to the Eckerd community about the Innovation Fund, President Fernández stated that “Our challenge, and opportunity, is to deliver on the Eckerd promise that a liberal arts education—grounded in action, in service to the world—is attainable and valuable for this and future generations of students who aspire to be agents of change.”

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