Anonymous $1 million gift will support Penn State Smeal leadership program

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Penn State Smeal College of Business has received an anonymous $1 million estate commitment to create scholarship and program funds to support the Sapphire Leadership Academic Program and its students.

The program serves high-achieving business students who demonstrate outstanding character and personal integrity, an aptitude for leadership, and a commitment to community service.

“These types of leadership gifts set the tone for our fundraising campaign, ‘A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,’ and encourage our alumni and friends to make similar investments that benefit our faculty and students,” said Michelle Houser, senior director of development and alumni relations at Smeal.

A percentage of the gift will be designated to an endowed fund that supports the activities and initiatives of the Sapphire Program, including leadership and team-building activities, student travel for exposure to top-level professional experiences, and seminars led by industry leaders.

The gift will also support two separate scholarship funds: one for Smeal undergraduate students who have been accepted into the Sapphire Program, and the other for Sapphire students who are also enrolled or plan to enroll in the Schreyer Honors College.

The Sapphire Program, under the direction of Robert Novack, associate professor of supply chain and information systems, offers students a transformative leadership experience with rigorous academic standards.

“I am grateful for this commitment,” Novack said. “This gift will provide critical resources, particularly in the junior year, when students participate in the program’s signature Leadership Immersion Program.”

The Leadership Immersion Program exposes students to scenarios that stretch their critical-thinking and communication skills, teach them what it means to work as a team, and teach them how to lead in times of stress.

“The Sapphire Program is a strength of the college,” said Charles H. Whiteman, John and Becky Surma Dean of Smeal. “The resources and scholarships that result from this gift have the potential to transform our program by encouraging the brightest high school seniors from across the country and around the world to apply to Smeal and to challenge themselves as Sapphire students.”

The donor has elected for early activation of the gift. By providing annual funds equal to a percentage of the eventual principle of estate commitment, early activation allows donors to see the benefits of their philanthropy while still living. 

“Our anonymous donor recognizes the importance of a leadership program of Sapphire’s caliber,” said Houser. “This gift reflects his values and his commitment to Penn State and the Sapphire Leadership Academic Program and will elevate the programming we are able to offer to the college’s most talented and ambitious students.”

Gifts from Penn State’s alumni and friends have been essential to the success of the University’s historic land-grant mission to serve the public good. To fulfill that mission for a new era of rapid change and global connections, the University has begun “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” a fast-paced campaign focused on the three key imperatives of a public university.

Private support will keep the door to higher education open and enable students to graduate on time and on track to success; create transformative experiences on Penn State campuses and around the globe that tap the full potential of Penn Staters to make a difference; and impact the world through discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more, visit

Last Updated November 15, 2017