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Alumni and Friends Making an Impact

Raising UD’s Average

Bob Higdon ’62 and his wife, Merle, had lunch in Kennedy Union with a few UD students this year. They were on campus to visit some friends, make new ones and add a little ink to the scholarship agreement they had created.

In 1999, they established the Robert B. and Merle A. Higdon Endowed Presidential Scholarship. They later added qualifying language to establish that preferred recipients of the award should be average students (who maintain close to a 3.0 GPA) who are middle class.

“I was not a stellar student,” said Bob with a smile that makes you think he might have devoted at least a part of his college efforts toward extracurricular activities before he went on to become the vice president and general manager of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I was OK, but no one was offering me scholarships.”

Scholarship or not, Bob loved his experience at UD, and he’s remained active with the University since then by serving on his Reunion Weekend committee, attending events on campus and in his local community, fundraising, and meeting with students.

So, as he witnessed tuition climb at colleges and universities across the nation, he saw it rise at UD, too. He worried about the effect it could have on the entire UD community.

The way he sees it, there are already a lot of existing programs or scholarships to assist with tuition for those who have great need as well as the academically gifted — and he’s supported them. Bob was concerned that the middle might feel the squeeze.

“We want to make sure that the students in the middle don’t fall through the cracks,” said Bob, referring to students with an average GPA and income.

It certainly matters to those specific students, but it also matters to the rest of the Flyer community. The Higdons want to ensure that all students at UD benefit from having all walks of life contributing to the full University of Dayton experience.

Bob attended UD, so he knew he wanted to contribute to keeping the experience the same — or make it better. When he and Merle were completing some estate planning, he asked what she thought about making a donation to the school. They’d been married for about 12 years, and they’d been to Reunion Weekend and Alumni Community events, so he had an idea that she might be on board. But what sealed the deal for Merle was her experience on campus, too.

“The first time I walked across campus with Bob, I was impressed,” said Merle. “People looked you in the eye — the students — and they spoke first. They said ‘hello,’ ‘good morning’ … I’ve never seen that on another campus, and I’ve been across a lot of campuses.”

People always talk about the feel of community on campus. It’s hard to explain, but you definitely feel it when you’re at UD.

Bob believes a lot of that community feel comes from the Marianist spirit that campus is so rich with. What really impresses the Higdons is how that Marianist character is even stronger now than when he was a student.

“A lot of the courses I took were taught by either a priest or a brother, and the brothers and priests were everywhere on campus — in the classrooms and the administration. Clearly that’s not the case today,” said Bob. So, he gives a lot of the credit to people like Brother Tom Giardino, S.M. ’65, assistant for special projects in the Office for Mission and Rector, and the brothers who live and work on campus and in the student neighborhood.

“You may or may not have ever met or heard of Brother Tom, but that has been his job for about the last 20 years,” said Bob about keeping that Marianist, community feel. “That’s what makes UD different. I’m not entirely sure how it’s done, but it’s not happening by accident, right?”

He’s definitely right. And, in the years to come, as more middle-income students receive the Higdons’ scholarship, people may still wonder how UD keeps its community feel. It’s by welcoming everyone to the table, and the Higdons are making sure everyone has a seat.

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