The Plattsburgh State Institutional Advancement Office and Alumni Association Board have developed the James Augustus Wilson Endowment Fund Scholarship to honor the first African American graduate of PSUC and to establish a scholarship to support African American students, while building a platform to engage the alumni and campus communities.
The original idea for the scholarship was proposed by PSUC alumnus Greg Riley (’77) as a way to improve race relations on campus. He said as a professor at Norwalk Community College, he often promotes PSUC to students looking to transfer, especially minority students.
African American students will be eligible to win the scholarship based on their excellence in academic achievement, with a minimum GPA requirement and their leadership qualities. These criteria were chosen to shadow Wilson’s contributions while studying at PSUC and his teaching accomplishments. Financial need will also be considered.
Riley said this scholarship provides a chance to let students know that African American students are important, while also giving them a role model to look up to.
The scholarship selection committee is comprised of staff from the Provost Office, the Center for Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusivity, the Educational Opportunity Program, Student Support Services and the Alumni Association.
The funding to establish endowment, which guarantees future scholarship awards, was raised in about two weeks, according to the Vice President for Institutional Advancement Anne Hansen. The endowment fund requires at least $25,000. Hansen said she has raised over $28,000.
“Now we’re going public with it and we think it will really generate a lot of positive interest and excitement,” Hansen said.
The funding originated from gifts of alumni donors and staff. Alumni donors include Riley, Bruce Mante who also helped Riley propose the idea, Tony Casselle and Tom Hermes. The entire PSUC President’s Cabinet and all five college deans also donated to the endowment fund as well.
An endowment is a “fund which is established by a donor and managed by the Plattsburgh College Foundation in perpetuity. Only a portion of the endowment is disbursed annually for the purposes defined by the donor and documented in the endowment agreement,” according to an official PSUC document.
“It will be an endowed scholarship, which means that once it is funded, it will exist in perpetuity,” Hansen said. “So in other words, the endowment gets created and every year we make an award from that endowment, and we’re able to do that forever, so it’s a very big deal.”
Wilson, a 1902 graduate of the Plattsburgh Normal School, was the first African American to complete the college’s teaching program. He later went to teach at Clark University, Sam Houston College and Tuskegee College, focusing on race relations and social injustices.
“He was really ahead of his time, but very passionate and well-respected,” Hansen said of Wilson.
Director of Advancement Communications Aubrey Bresett is in charge of promoting the scholarship opportunity across the PSUC campus.
“We really want to raise awareness around who James Augustus was as a person and use this to really drive our alumni involvement and get the word out,” Bresett said.
She said she also hopes to use social media to gain momentum around the opportunity.
Riley said this scholarship highlights the effort and spirit of the Plattsburgh community.
“Look at all the good that came from this,” Riley said. “I’m proud to be an alumni.”
Riley also said he thanks President Ettling and Black Onyx for supporting the effort and working to make campus a better place for diversity.
“It’s not just about raising dollars. It’s about raising awareness, for both the history of the college and this amazing person, James Augustus Wilson, and also supporting African American students that are leaders,” Hansen said. “It’s a really wonderful, feel-good project on both fronts.”
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