University Foundation plans to continue awarding grants to help academic programs

Jackie Valley

Two $50,000 grants from the University Foundation helped buy new Steinway pianos and renovate an organic chemistry laboratory in the past year.

Similar grants in coming years will follow as part of the foundation’s effort to highlight its importance while continuing to help the university, said Gene Finn, vice president for institutional advancement.

“One of the things we do want is for people to understand the significance the foundation plays,” he said.

Mel Mellis, chair of the University Foundation Board of Directors, said the foundation is currently organizing a grant committee to make the process more formal.

“This committee will have a dialogue and process set up, and we will personally go out to the university and say ‘we have x-amount of dollars,'” he said.

Finn said the number and monetary amount of grants awarded each year will depend on the University Foundation’s balance of unrestricted funds.

“If the available resources increase, it’s possible the number of grants may increase,” he said.

Mellis said unrestricted funds, which can be used for anything deemed appropriate by the foundation board, account for between $1.1 and $1.2 million of the foundation’s $150 million in total assets.

Mellis said the idea for the grants came to him during a foundation board meeting earlier this year when he realized an increase in unrestricted funds.

“It dawned on me that the foundation board members don’t always have the insight that President Lefton has in knowing all the things going on,” he said.

However, he said one of the foundation’s goals is to transform the board into one that is “much more active in events and needs of the university.”

After discussing the idea, Mellis said the board decided to use the money for a grant to help university programs, particularly academic ones.

Mellis said, at the suggestion of former Provost Paul Gaston, the foundation gave the first grant in February to the music program to jump-start its purchase of Steinway pianos. At its October meeting, the foundation awarded a grant to the chemistry department to renovate the organic chemistry laboratory in Williams Hall after Provost Robert Frank reviewed several proposals.

Mellis said another grant will most likely be made at the next foundation board meeting in February.

“It’s my intention if the funds are there, we will do it,” he said.

Mellis said he expects the unrestricted funds to grow, and with it, the ability to help programs that may not be able to secure other sources of funding.

“We’re (University Foundation) not in the business of running Kent State,” he said. “We’re in the business of making Kent State greater.”

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Jackie Valley at [email protected].