University Park, Pa. -- Penn State's College of Education has received a $2.4 million commitment from Paula Donson of Anchorage, Alaska -- the largest gift ever made to the college -- in support of graduate students in the College of Education.
The Paula M. Donson Graduate Scholarship for Innovation in Education aims to to recognize and provide financial assistance to doctoral degree candidates who are pursuing unique contributions to the field of education.
"I wanted the money to go to those who will bring change, innovation and new ideas into education," said Donson, who received her doctoral degree in curriculum and instruction from Penn State in 1982. "I want to help people who are creative and have new ideas, and I want them to have the means to see their ideas through to fruition."
David H. Monk, dean of the College of Education, noted that "thanks to Paula's philanthropy, there will be opportunities for students with deep interests in education to pursue imaginative ideas and initiatives in perpetuity. These scholars will have transformative impacts on society and will make us all proud to be part of the Penn State family."
Donson's career has taken her from her hometown near Scranton to the challenging frontier of Alaska. While vacationing in Alaska in the early 1990s, she met the chairman of a burgeoning company. Their visions aligned, and Donson moved to Alaska to contribute her skill, talent and time to a company called Mactel.
The company had the goal of launching in a state about one-fifth the size of the entire lower 48 states the premiere service of its kind in an industry that few people at that time had ever heard of: cell phones.
"It's my little adventurous streak that has brought me the best opportunities," Donson said. "For six months it was very challenging because nothing was as I had experienced -- the darkness, transportation, the weather, housing. And you must be successful (in Alaska), or they can't use you. What you do has to work.
"I found that my skills in education really were well leveraged when I went to work in business," she continued, "and that was my passion -- to work with people, teaching them in a new way, taking them down a new path and helping them be successful."
Donson currently is an executive with the Alaska Railroad and is on the faculty of the University of Alaska.
"Paula Donson’s many accomplishments in her career demonstrate the power of a high-quality education and its potential for stimulating inventive and innovative pursuits," said Dean Monk. "She is an inspiration for us all, and we are deeply grateful to her for her vision and commitment to education."