PHILADELPHIA -- The University of Pennsylvania has received a $20 million gift from Say Yes to Education, Inc. that will provide for its priorities in student life, faculty support and financial aid, according to an announcement today by Penn President Judith Rodin.
The gift, presented by George A. Weiss, founder and president of Say Yes to Education, Penn Trustee, and 1965 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, is the largest in a series of gifts to Penn by Weiss and Say Yes over the past 25 years. It will be used to establish a challenge grant for undergraduate financial aid; to create the Weiss House for innovative technologies for students in all four of Penn undergraduate schools; to establish an endowed professorship; and to provide support for athletic priorities.
"Few people have been greater ambassadors for Penn than George has," Rodin said. "His generosity encompasses his time and energy and his financial commitment to an extraordinarily broad range of student and campus life priorities. We are enormously grateful to him for this latest evidence of his dedication and unwavering support."
Rodin noted that Weiss gift supports the University goals in its Agenda for Excellence, notably in the areas of scholarship endowment, faculty support and student life.
Weiss is president of George Weiss Associates, Inc., a money management firm with offices in Hartford, Connecticut, and New York. He is best known throughout the country as the founder of the nationally recognized Say Yes to Education program that combines academic support and intervention with an offer to pay college tuition or vocational training costs for inner city students. The program was launched in West Philadelphia in 1987 and has grown to include over 360 students in Philadelphia, Cambridge, MA, and Hartford, CT. Say Yes is based at Penn Graduate School of Education.
At Penn, Weiss is a Trustee, an athletic overseer, and serves as Chair of Penn Committee on Undergraduate Financial Aid, which is charged with raising $200 million in new endowment.
"I want to make a difference in the lives of students because I want them to make a difference in the world," said Weiss. "Walter Annenberg is my inspiration. I have always taken to heart a comment he made after making a significant commitment to the University. He said, t is simply a matter of good citizenship.
Some $6 million is designated for financial aid, of which $5 million will create the Weiss Challenge Fund for Undergraduate Financial Aid. This challenge fund is designed to encourage new scholarship gifts by providing one dollar for every two dollars committed by other donors. As a leading advocate for financial aid, Weiss has been particularly passionate about issues surrounding minority permanence and carrying the message of the importance of financial aid to young alumni.
A recent graduate, who experienced Weiss enthusiasm in a face-to-face encounter, responded by creating a scholarship in memory of his grandparents. "He made a very compelling case, one that stayed with me," said the donor.
The Weiss House for innovative technologies will serve as a focal point for students interested in innovative technologies of any kind, such as software systems and products; telecommunications; and biomedical devices. It will provide a setting in which students from all four of Penn undergraduate schools - the College of Arts and Sciences, the Wharton School, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and the School of Nursing can take ideas about new technologies, develop products from them, and explore how they can successfully be marketed, financed, and developed into businesses. With faculty advisors from SEAS and Wharton, along with resources and expertise from such schools as Arts and Sciences, Medicine, and Law, the Weiss Tech House will serve as a model of interdisciplinary discussion and exploration. The House will provide hospitable social and meeting spaces, as well as appropriate equipment for students to interact, learn together, and collaborate with faculty and industry experts on the development and furthering of their ideas.
The thematic concept of the Weiss Tech House will follow that of several other highly successful "hubs" that help comprise Penn College House system. Others include the Kelly Writers House, Civic House, and the new Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships.
Weiss, who calls the University of Pennsylvania "my first, second and third philanthropic interest," has given nearly $40 million to a wide variety of areas within the University. Weiss previous gifts have included undergraduate scholarships for minority students; the Weiss Center for International Financial Research at the Wharton School; endowed professorships in folklore and music (the latter named for Weiss father); the deanship in the Graduate School of Education; and support for intercollegiate athletics.
Weiss holds Penn highest alumni honor, the Award of Merit, in recognition of his unwavering loyalty to the University of Pennsylvania.