Keiko Miwa Ross honored as Penn State's Philanthropist of the Year

Keiko Miwa Ross at the Collaboration Commons grand opening. Credit: PENN STATE / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.—Penn State has named Keiko Miwa Ross, a State College resident and one of the first women to pursue a college degree in her native Japan, as its 2020 Philanthropist of the Year.

The award recognizes individuals, couples or families who have demonstrated exceptional generosity in the promotion and support of the University. 

Ross was honored for her transformational philanthropy to University Park programs that serve both students and the larger State College community. Ross has committed more than $14 million to areas across the campus, including a $7.5 million gift that pushed the new Palmer Museum of Art building project past the threshold necessary to create the landmark facility.

“Through her remarkable generosity, Dr. Ross has demonstrated that it is not necessary to be a Penn State graduate to be a true Penn Stater,” said Penn State President Eric J. Barron. “As a community member who has chosen to invest in University resources that benefit countless citizens and families in our region, she has affirmed not only her own philanthropic leadership, but also her commitment to Penn State’s land-grant mission to serve all the people of the Commonwealth. We are profoundly grateful that Dr. Ross has chosen to make State College her home, and to make Penn State a better and stronger institution. We will be proud to carry her legacy and her values forward.”

Philanthropy from Ross is having a visible impact across the University Park campus. At the University Libraries, her support has named the Dr. Keiko Miwa Ross Pattee Garden Terrace, a new student-centered study and gathering space that includes an outdoor garden; and the Dr. Keiko Miwa Ross Global News Center, which provides access to international news collections. When The Arboretum at Penn State opens its Pollinator and Bird Garden next year, a pond and observation steps in the new space will also bear Ross’s name. Ross is a supporter of WPSU-TV, and she provided essential funding for the replacement of the station’s aging transmitter system last year.

The most dramatic celebration of Ross’s philanthropy on the University Park campus will be the naming of the new Palmer Museum of Art lobby and the unique, elevated and glass-enclosed corridor that will connect the facility’s main building, which will house the museum’s galleries, and the education and administration wing, home to classrooms, offices and spaces for research and study. The connector will frame a gateway that will welcome visitors to both the museum and the adjacent arboretum while providing direct pedestrian access to the H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens and, from the gardens, back to the museum’s entry plaza.

A rendering of the new Palmer Museum of Art façade. Design development rendering by Allied Works Architecture. Credit: Allied Works ArchitectureAll Rights Reserved.

Dr. Ross’s commitment of $7.5 million helped the project to achieve its initial $13.9 million fundraising goal. Currently slated to open in 2023 with Board of Trustees approval, the approximately 70,000-gross-square-foot new Palmer Museum of Art facility will offer spaces to support the museum’s exhibition, preservation and education program, and it will be integrated in both structure and design with the natural assets of the Arboretum.

A rendering of a view of the event court for the new Palmer Museum of Art. Design development rendering by Allied Works Architecture. Credit: Allied Works ArchitectureAll Rights Reserved.

“Dr. Ross came forward at a pivotal moment when philanthropic leadership was vital to fulfilling our vision for the new Palmer Museum of Art,” said Museum Director Erin Coe. “I am deeply grateful to Dr. Ross for her generosity. By naming the lobby and the gateway she has established a legacy for future generations who, like her, value the integration of art, architecture and nature. I am delighted to join the University in honoring Dr. Ross as Penn State’s Philanthropist of the Year.”

A rendering of the new Palmer Museum of Art lobby. Design development rendering by Allied Works Architecture. Credit: Allied Works ArchitectureAll Rights Reserved.

Born and raised in Japan, Ross was an educational pioneer in her native country. In 1952, Japanese college education was opened for women for the first time in history, and Ross was among the nation’s first female undergraduates. She completed her education in the United States, however, first receiving her bachelor of arts degree and, later, her master’s and doctoral degrees in education from universities in Washington State.

Back in Japan, while she was teaching college in Kobe and living in Nishinomiya, Ross worked for a sister-city affiliate program between Nishinomiya and the City of Spokane, Washington, where she had lived during school, and in 1965 she received honorary citizenship from the mayor of Spokane. In 1974, she worked for President Gerald Ford during his visit to Japan, receiving a Presidential Certificate of Appreciation.

During one of these special assignments — as an official hostess for foreign dignitaries at Expo ’70, the world’s fair in Osaka — she met S. Thomas Ross, director of an American-Japanese joint venture company. They were married the following year and lived in Japan until 1977, when Thomas was assigned to New York. Keiko subsequently became an American citizen and, while working for the U.S. Department of State, was able to visit all 50 states. The Rosses ultimately settled at the Village at Penn State, and Thomas passed away in 2013.

The Philanthropist of the Year award celebrates Ross’s commitment to the institution, so close to her present home, where she has found important resources and connections. She said, “I am very glad to see that this world-class University continues to offer vital information and varied perspectives to both Penn State students and local community members like me. I am very grateful that Penn State will carry forward the value and ideas of global connection and community into the future, and it is my great pride and joy to support the development of my dear Penn State through my philanthropy.”

Ross’s philanthropy will advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit

Last Updated September 22, 2020