CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- Lights flashed and music screamed from the speakers as the announcement scrolled across the two large projection screens located at the front of the University of Northern Iowa Maucker Union ballroom.

Richard O. Jacobson, an Iowa businessman and philanthropist, had donated $15 million to the university’s College of Education. The largest gift in school history will allow the college to hire additional faculty, entice quality students with four-year scholarships and support student and faculty research.

“This gift will have a multiplier effect, with thousands of preK-12 students in the future realizing the benefits of this gift,” UNI President Ben Allen said.

The gift brings Jacobson’s total contributions to the university to $30 million, including an $11 million gift to create the Center for Comprehensive Literacy and a $3.5 million donation toward the Human Performance Center, both of which bear his name.

Marilyn Reese with the Richard O. Jacobson Foundation said this donation builds on the success already being realized by the staff at the literacy center.

“That is what has catapulted us into this next gift,” she said.

One-third of the money will be used to create an endowed scholarship in honor of Allen.

Dwight Watson, the College of Education dean, said the money will provide 10 merit-based scholarships a year for students interested in high-need education areas like science, math, special education and literacy. Students could receive up to $20,000 over four years.

“Dr. Allen has been a friend of mine for many, many years,” Jacobson said of the scholarship. “He stands for so much in education. He’s a tremendous gentleman.”

Another $6 million will be used for faculty development, including the addition of endowed professorships in literacy and science and funding for visiting faculty and visiting fellowships.

The remaining $4 million will be used for programming. Watson said the one of the first programs will be an annual education conference.

Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds traveled from Des Moines to participate in the announcement.

“This is a very special gift because it will enhance the preparation of teachers who work to provide all Iowa children with a world-class education,” said Branstad, who also used the platform to highlight his reform plan which he said “will inspire and encourage more high-achievers to go into teaching. And we expect UNI is going to send us a lot of great graduates.”

Allen came under fire last year for his decision to close Malcolm Price Laboratory School, the College of Education’s teacher training school; and for cutting about one-fifth of the university’s academic programs.

He said this gift is an affirmation of the quality of the teacher education program, including the changes that were made last year.

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“Mainly, though, it is an affirmation of the quality of the teachers and the students,” Allen said. “That makes me feel good that we had some role to play in this. This is our top priority, so to get a gift this size aligning with your top priority is something that will help the university the most.”

Though Jacobson has high hopes for what the university can do with the money he also has high hopes for the students the school will produce.

“I hope that the many, many students they teach will become successful like I’ve been and will then give back like I’ve done,” Jacobson said. “That would make me very happy.”


Earlier: UNI announces record-setting gift

4:45 p.m. - CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- The University of Northern Iowa today announced that Des Moines businessman Richard O. Jacobson has donated $15 million to the school’s College of Education.

This is the largest gift UNI has ever received.

“UNI is renowned for the quality of teachers it produces. It has an outstanding program for preparing principals and superintendents, and the university’s leadership has demonstrated their vision, expertise and dedication to pre-K through 12 education,” Jacobson said in a prepared release. “I hope this gift will strengthen and create educational opportunities that will enable all of Iowa’s children to achieve success as individuals and contributors to the larger community and society.”

A portion of the gift will support endowed faculty positions in literacy and science, as well as funding visiting faculty and visiting fellows. The money will support faculty and student research, an annual education summit and other initiatives. Jacobson also created a $5 million endowed scholarship in honor of President Ben Allen.

The university expects the scholarship to attract “talented, accomplished students who have the potential to be excellent teachers.”

“We have embraced pre-K through 12 educational leadership as a top priority at UNI. This extraordinary gift affirms our commitment and provides the resources we need to support innovation and leadership in education,” Allen said in the release. “I am deeply grateful to Dick for helping us transform education in Iowa and for helping Iowa regain its national leadership in pre-K through 12 education.”

Dwight Watson, dean of UNI’s College of Education said Jacobson’s “remarkable generosity” will help the college strengthen and create new education opportunities.

“Well-trained, highly effective teachers will play a key role in helping to eliminate social, racial and economic barriers so Iowa’s children will thrive,” he said in the release.

This is Jacobson’s third and largest gift to the College of Education. Gifts from the Jacobson Foundation to UNI have totaled $30 million and have been focused on teacher education programs, including an $11 million gift to create the Center for Comprehensive Literacy and a $3.5 million donation toward the building of the Human Performance Center, which bears his name.

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