Charlotte-based Duke Endowment awards $25 million to Furman University

Elizabeth Davis, president of Furman University
Elizabeth Davis, president of Furman University jmarusak@charlotteobserver.com

Thanks to a $25 million boost from the Charlotte-based Duke Endowment, Furman University in Greenville, S.C., is guaranteeing internships, teams of faculty mentors and professional connections to every one of it 2,700 undergraduates.

In early October, the university launched “The Furman Advantage” with its latest gift from the endowment.

The money also will significantly increase the number and quality of student study-abroad and research opportunities and student-involved community projects, university officials said.

“We will guarantee every student the opportunity to engage in real-world experiences that connect back to classroom learning,” Furman president Elizabeth Davis said in announcing the effort. That guarantee “not only will help students discover their passions, but also create a superhighway to their future careers, graduate study and contributions to the well-being of their communities.”

“We’re not guaranteeing jobs,” Davis told the Observer in a recent interview. “But we can guarantee experiences and connectivity.”

When he established his endowment in 1924, industrialist and philanthropist James B. Duke targeted its money to strengthening higher education, child care, health care and rural churches. He picked Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, Davidson College, Duke University and Furman to receive the higher education dollars.

In 2012, The Duke Endowment awarded $45 million to Davidson, the largest single grant ever given to the college, to support the college’s 10-year plan to build, expand or renovate six buildings to create an “academic neighborhood” with flexible spaces and common areas.

In the following two years, The Duke Endowment approved a $3.4 million grant to help Davidson, Duke University, Johnson C. Smith University and Furman University collaborate on increasing student “resilience,” meaning their ability to thrive despite difficult circumstances.

Last November, a $22 million gift from the endowment fully funded Furman’s full-tuition James B. Duke Scholarships.

Furman’s undergraduates include 132 from the Charlotte area and 55 from Rock Hill/York, S.C. The university has 1,200 alumni in the Charlotte region.

The school has, on average, six students interning in Charlotte each summer with such companies and organizations as Bank of America, Carolinas HealthCare System, Catholic Charities, YMCA of Greater Charlotte, Habitat for Humanity and the city of Charlotte, said Susan Zeiger, Furman’s internship program director.

The latest round of endowment money also will create software to track the students through their four years at Furman and how the internships and related efforts benefit them after they graduate.

Given the latest endowment award, Davis said, Furman will need its parents, alumni and friends to host internships and research projects, hire students and give financially to the school “like never before.”

Sarah Saba, a 21-year-old senior from Charlotte, interned over the summer at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in New York City. She was one of two inaugural recipients of a fellowship through the Furman Metropolitan Fellowship grant program established by Furman alumni.

Saba majors in piano performance and pre-medicine and hasn’t decided on which she’ll pursue as a career. If it’s medicine, she’d want to specialize in a pediatrics field, and said working with senior scientists at the foundation this summer was invaluable.

Guaranteeing such an experience to every Furman student?

“It’s a huge step forward for Furman,” she said, one that doesn’t just benefit the school, but the community of Greenville and the world at large.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak