Reflecting back on his life recently, West Virginia University alumnus Gary Christopher experienced an epiphany that led him to give back to his alma mater.
A highly successful engineer from Atlanta, Ga., Christopher came to the realization that the foundation for many of his life accomplishments is grounded in the education he received while attending WVU’s College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. As a way of giving back, Gary and his wife, Lisa, are establishing a graduate fellowship within the College to help provide similar opportunities for aspiring students.
“I learned so much at WVU that laid a foundation for what was to come,” Gary Christopher said. “We desire to provide a graduate fellowship each year for an engineering student so each of these students can have the door to the world opened up for them, as we have been blessed.”
The $125,000 gift endows the Gary and Lisa Christopher Graduate Fellowship, and is expected to qualify for a match from the state Research Trust Fund (RTF). The Christophers also are providing an additional $5,000 in non-endowed funds to assist with graduate fellowships, making their total gift $130,000.
“The College is very appreciative of this major gift to help support graduate fellowships,” said Gene Cilento, Glen H. Hiner Dean of the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. “This new endowment supports a major focus area of the CEMR 2020 strategic plan. It will make the College more competitive with peer institutions in recruiting and graduating top-quality students from our master’s and doctoral degree programs. The matching Research Trust Fund endowment provides a wonderful opportunity to double the impact of this private gift.”
Students eligible for the fellowship must be current WVU graduate students pursuing studies to advance research in energy and environmental sciences; nanotechnology and material science; biological, biotechnological, and biomedical sciences; biometrics, security, sensing, forensic sciences, or other related identification technologies consistent with the requirements of the West Virginia RTF.
Christopher graduated from WVU in 1974. He is currently president of Jholdas Group of Georgia, a management consulting firm.
He credits his parents, Catherine Christopher of Morgantown and the late Bill Christopher, with providing a strong moral and spiritual foundation. It is these beliefs which he feels inspired him to provide the opportunity to WVU students.
“We know that investing in relationships and people is everlasting and can be passed on to the next generation. Buildings may last a generation, while investing in people endures for eternity,” Christopher said. “A future which I could not have dreamed of in 1974 has provided opportunity and doors to the world I never knew existed. Our hope is that the students may use the education that they have been given to serve others and to pass on what they have learned to the next generation.”
In 2008, the state created the RTF with an initial appropriation of $50 million to leverage public and private investments that will transform West Virginia’s economy. WVU is able to tap into the fund to double private gifts that support expansions to research faculty and infrastructure in key areas linked to economic development, healthcare and job growth. To date, private and state dollars combined for WVU total over $33 million.
The WVU Foundation is a private, nonprofit corporation that generates, receives and administers private gifts for the benefit of WVU.