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The Educating Forward committee

$3 million and counting raised to support future teachers

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Media Contact: Rachel Eng | Marketing and Communications Manager | 405-744-8320 |

Since the launch of the Educating Forward initiative in October 2020, supporters from across the state and beyond have raised nearly $3.5 million to fund student scholarships for future teachers.

“The overwhelming support we’ve received in a relatively short time emphasizes the value our alumni, donors and friends place on preparing quality educators,” said Dr. Jon Pedersen, dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences. “Now, perhaps more than ever, our community sees the essential role of teachers and the immense impact they have both inside and outside the classroom. Supporting education and future teachers is something we can all rally behind, and this campaign’s success proves that.”

The Educating Forward initiative initially set out to raise a total of $3 million to provide up to $150,000 a year in scholarships to those pursuing a degree in education. To date, $3.44 million has been raised, and the initiative now looks to extend its goal and broaden its impact.

“With the funds we’ve already raised, we will double the current amount of scholarships awarded annually to education majors,” said Dr. Shelbie Witte, head of the School of Teaching, Learning and Educational Sciences within the College of Education and Human Sciences. “The impact that has on our students and their future is substantial. But the work isn’t done, and the need is still great. We’d like to see that scholarship amount go up even more as we continue to raise funds into next spring.”

In addition to the scholarship dollars, one of the most compelling parts of the Educating Forward initiative has been the heartfelt stories behind the gifts.

“Allowing donors to give in honor of someone was very important to us,” Witte said. “We’ve been able to celebrate so many of the influential teachers who have inspired and impacted our lives.”

A few of those stories follow.

“Happy anniversary” took on a whole new meaning for Dr. Gay Washington Miller when her husband of 25 years surprised her with news that he had established an endowed scholarship in her honor.

Terry Miller, a former OSU football star and retired NFL running back, put his plan in motion shortly after learning about the Educating Forward initiative. He quickly enlisted former teammates, friends and family who were happy to join the effort and show their support for a woman who truly embodies the heart and soul of the campaign.

A highly regarded lifelong educator, volunteer and advocate for children and education, Gay has served in many capacities, including classroom teacher, principal and assistant superintendent. Most recently, she served the Stillwater community as executive director of the Oklahoma WONDERtorium children’s museum. Gay is also a three-time Oklahoma State graduate, having earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate from OSU.

“Forty years of service goes a long way, and she’s still serving every day,” Terry said. “I’m just happy to be along for the ride.”

Gay was moved to tears when she learned the Dr. Gay Washington Miller Endowed Scholarship in Education will provide financial assistance to education majors, allowing them to pursue their dream of becoming teachers.

“Someone has made a difference in every one of our lives that made us go into education, and I’m beyond grateful this scholarship will be a difference maker for future educators,” Gay said. “It’s truly an honor.”

Tara Elizabeth Parks with her daughter Katy and mom, SharionTara Elizabeth Parks’ love for OSU and heart for giving lives on through an endowed scholarship fund established by her parents, Dr. Ron and Sharion Austin.

Although Parks only spent a handful of years in the classroom teaching special education, the difference she made in the lives of her students was significant.

“She always came home telling stories about how she had helped her students that day,” her dad said. “Even when she left teaching to manage her husband’s dental office, her heart was still in the classroom and still with those kids.”

Tara died in 2018, and Ron and Sharion established the Tara Elizabeth Parks Memorial Endowed Scholarship in Special Education — the couple’s second endowed scholarship at OSU — so their daughter’s big heart and generous spirit would benefit future generations of teachers.

“After she passed away, there were so many stories of her giving, so many things we didn’t even know about,” Ron said. “And with this scholarship, she’s still giving, and that legacy will be passed down to the four children she left behind.”

“It’s important for us to honor Tara at the school she loved, while also honoring the teachers who’ve made a difference in our own lives."

- Dr. Ron Austin

Parks earned her education degree from the University of Central Oklahoma, but having grown up coming to campus for athletic events, OSU always had a special place in her heart.

“It’s important for us to honor Tara at the school she loved, while also honoring the teachers who’ve made a difference in our own lives,” Ron said.

In memory of his late wife, Bobby Hayes established the Claranne Hayes Endowed Scholarship in Early Childhood Education, on what would have been her 87th birthday.

Claranne HayesClaranne died in 2020 following a 10-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease, leaving behind a loving family and a lasting legacy.

“This scholarship just fits the kind of lady she was — as a teacher, mother and wife,” Bobby said. “This is something she needed and deserved.”

As a military wife, Claranne joined her husband on assignments. She taught elementary school in Lubbock, Texas, and kindergarten and preschool programs at Air Force bases in Alabama, Japan and Hawaii. After retiring from the Air Force in 1975, Bobby and Claranne returned to Miami, Oklahoma, where she taught kindergarten for 20 years, touching the lives of countless children.

“There’s just one word that comes to mind when I think about Claranne — dedication,” Bobby said. “There are no other words.”

Bobby fondly talks about the impact his wife had on their three daughters, including the values and work ethic she instilled in them and the emphasis she placed on education.

“Supporting education is one of the places I’ve spent my time and money best.”

- Bobby Hayes, Retired, Air Force

Whether through his previous service with the Foundation for Miami Public Schools or his current support of OSU student scholarships, Bobby is an avid education advocate.

“Supporting education is one of the places I’ve spent my time and money best,” Bobby said.

Desarae Witmer, a longtime educator and current assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and assessment for Yukon Public Schools, used the Educating Forward initiative to pay tribute to a retired teacher who not only had a profound impact on her formative years, but who also helped shape her as a professional.

Teaching fifth- and sixth-grade English and social studies and coaching basketball, Pam Lucas set high expectations for her students and players in Jones, Oklahoma.

“She brought an energy and attitude with her that said, ‘You can do anything with hard work, determination and a strong work ethic,’” Witmer said. “That’s something I still believe to this day.”

Lucas showed genuine care and love for her students, supporting and encouraging them in the classroom and far beyond. Her passion and enthusiasm reflected the faith she had in those she taught, something Witmer tries to emulate.

“I’m starting my 28th year in public education, and I still work hard to reach and demonstrate those basic core values from my middle school years,” she said. “Model and show respect to the education profession. Build relationships by being honest and truthful. Be passionate about the work and put it all on the line each and every day for students.”

“This is just a glimpse into the generosity and sincerity behind the gifts we’ve received thus far,” said Dean Pedersen. “We are proud to share our donor stories and hope to inspire others who want to impact student lives through scholarship.”

The Educating Forward initiative will come to an official close in April 2022, but Oklahoma State and the College of Education and Human Sciences remain committed to preparing, supporting and celebrating the next generation of educators.

“We prepare professional educators who lead in the global community and advocate for high quality education for all,” said Dr. Robin Fuxa, director of OSU professional education. “Our goal is to make a transformative impact on schools, people and communities, helping children and youth succeed.”

Those interested in exploring teacher education programs offered in the College of Education and Sciences can visit

Story By: Rachel Eng | ASPIRE Magazine

OSU Teacher Educationhelps future teachers make a significant and lasting impact on the lives of their students.


reached by an elementary teacher during a 30-year career

taught by a secondary school teacher during a career

enrolled in OSU teacher education in 2020-2021

have graduated from OSU teacher education since 2013


Early support from several key donors helped launch the Educating Forward initiative, including:

Randall and Carol White — $1 million lead gift

After 35 years of service as chairman, CEO and president of Educational Development Corporation in Tulsa, Randall is transitioning to active executive chairman. He is a graduate of the Spears School of Business.

The couple’s investment in the Randall and Carol White Reading and Mathematics Center has significantly impacted OSU students and faculty as well as the greater community.

Bryan Close — $500,000 endowment gift

Close is the president of CloseBend Inc. in Tulsa. He established the Bryan Close Teaching Fund, a scholarship that covers student loan debt for a graduating senior.

Dr. Shelbie Witte and Mike Mondoux — estate gift

Dr. Witte is the head of the School of Teaching, Learning and Educational Sciences and her husband, Mike Mondoux, is a U.S. Army retiree and current Arvest Bank manager.

Their estate gift was made in honor of their families, which have 20 teachers between the two sides.




Dr. Pam Brown | Chair, professor emeritus | OSU College of Education and Human Sciences

Dr. Diane Allen | Provost emeritus | Salisbury University, Maryland

Marie Howard | Assistant principal | Capitol Hill High School, Oklahoma City

Terry Slagle | Alumna | OSU Spears School of Business

Dr. Gay Washington Miller | Former executive director | Oklahoma WONDERtorium

Dr. Stacey Butterfield | Superintendent | Jenks Public Schools

Dr. Rick Moore | Executive director | Oklahoma Municipal Contractors Association

Dr. Angela Grunewald | Superintendent | Edmond Public Schools

Dr. Janet Vinson | Superintendent | Broken Arrow Public Schools

Vicki Ehlers | Retired director | Cleo L. Craig OSU Child Development Lab

Dr. Traci Jensen | Educator | Houston, Texas

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