The critical role of educators in our communities has been amplified by the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic as new regulations and mandates have changed the way students learn and teachers teach. The importance of scholarships at Oklahoma State has also been highlighted as students continue to struggle with the financial ramifications caused by disruptions to everyday life.
As part of the Brighter Orange, Brighter Future campaign, the Educating Forward initiative was developed to help those students who are pursuing a degree in education. While there has long been a need for financial assistance for these students, the need has become even more evident because of COVID-19.
“The idea for Educating Forward was born out of a need on several fronts including the teacher shortage in Oklahoma, retention of teachers and the debt many students have upon graduation,” said Dr. Shelbie Witte, head of the School of Teaching, Learning and Educational Sciences within the College of Education and Human Sciences.
The average starting salary for a teacher in Oklahoma is $36,601, while the average student loan debt for an OSU graduate is $23,790. Like many students, education majors rely on scholarships to help ease the discrepancy between the amount they earn as a teacher and the amount they owe as a college graduate.
“We are at a very critical point for the future of education in Oklahoma. We essentially want to make it easier for those students who have a passion to teach to achieve that goal and not have to worry about debt,” Witte said.
The Educating Forward initiative aims to raise a total of $3 million, which would provide $130,000 to $150,000 a year in scholarships.
“These scholarships would be a game-changer for our school and our college,” Witte said. “With these scholarships, we would be showing our students that we value them and their education.”
The idea of being able to provide significant financial support for future teachers was especially inspiring for Randall and Carol White, lead donors of the Educating Forward initiative with a gift of $1 million that will begin awarding scholarships this spring. While Randall, president and CEO of Educational Development Corp. in Tulsa, is a graduate of the Spears School of Business, he has a deep passion for education and reading.
“I grew up in Keystone, Oklahoma, and my father was the superintendent,” Randall said. “If the bus driver didn’t show up that day, he was the bus driver. If the janitor didn’t show up that day, he was the janitor. Growing up, I saw the impact educators have in their communities.”
The Whites are also taking a different approach to their gift by creating a scholarship program that will be recurring every year for recipients — ensuring that these students have the funds available to continue their education at Oklahoma State. They are both eager to engage with and mentor their student recipients.
“We knew we wanted to get more involved with this gift,” Carol explained. “We want to connect with students, be a mentor for them and be able to see the impact our gift is having now.”
"They are perfect examples of how personal passions can fuel philanthropy at OSU. These gifts will change the lives of teachers and generations of students."
Randall and Carol hope their investment in the Educating Forward initiative will inspire others to give back to the university that means so much to them.
“We have been very fortunate, and we believe that the more you make, the more you can give back to others,” Randall said. “We don’t need anything more. You have got to go and do good with it.”
Witte and her husband, Mike Mondoux, U.S. Army retiree and current Arvest Bank manager, were also inspired to give to Educating Forward — They made an estate gift in honor of their families, which have 20 teachers between the two sides.
“Even though I’m not a graduate (of Oklahoma State University), I know the quality of educators coming from OSU. Mike and I wanted to give to the place that would do the most good and make the most impact,” she explained. “Teaching is who I am, and this is where it made sense for us to give.”
OSU alumnus Bryan Close, has also stepped up to help launch the Educating Forward initiative and invest in the next generation of Oklahoma educators by endowing a $500,000 gift.
“I felt I could help jump-start the new program by committing to a relatively meaningful gift,” Close said. “I sincerely believe the late Boone Pickens realized his significant financial gifts could and would inspire others to become involved. Albeit not on the scale of Boone’s generosity, perhaps my gift can induce others to explore possibilities of their own involvement.”
Close, president of CloseBend Inc. in Tulsa, has been a supporter of OSU education students for many years now, establishing the Bryan Close Teaching Fund, which he said has been one of his favorite contributions to the university.
“Hopefully, it eliminates at least one major worry as the newly graduated student embarks on his or her teaching career,” he said.
Close said he hopes that the scholarship support will help remove the stigma that teaching isn’t a valuable career path. Ultimately, he doesn’t want student loans to keep students from pursuing their passion for teaching as a career.
"Oklahoma State appreciates the remarkable generosity of the Whites, Bryan Close and Dr. Witte and her husband, which is propelling our Educating Forward initiative," said OSU President Burns Hargis. "They are perfect examples of how personal passions can fuel philanthropy at OSU. These gifts will change the lives of teachers and generations of students."
Why Your Support Matters
The Brighter Orange, Brighter Future scholarship campaign gives hope to students and families who believe they can’t afford higher education or the life-changing opportunities at OSU. Here are two reasons this campaign is vital to our students:
- More than 82 percent of OSU’s student body rely on financial assistance.
- The cost of attending OSU is pricing some students out, with one year here now estimated at more than $22,000 for an in-state student (excluding additional personal expenses).
To learn how you can make a difference for students at OSU, visit brighter-orange.com.