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Alumni and Friends Making an Impact

Bobby and Catherine Stewart on a cruise.

Lifting Others Up

Bobby ’78 and Catherine Jennings ’77 Stewart know the meaning of “work hard, play hard” as they enjoy retirement after collectively working nearly 80 years. Now they’ve established an endowed scholarship to give hard, too.

“An endowment is something that gives for a long time; it’s not just handing somebody cash and it’s a done deal,” Bobby said. “There might come a time when universities will be accessible, but right now you have to pay to play, and we want to help.”

Bobby knows how life-changing a scholarship can be. Because of the academic scholarships he received, he earned a comprehensive science and math degree from Wilberforce University and a chemical engineering degree from the University of Dayton through a dual-degree program.

“Being college graduates changed the potential of our lives,” Bobby said. “A lot of people are successful without a college degree, but for my wife and me, a college education provided a pathway to opportunity and gave us firm foundations for our careers.”

Catherine earned her bachelor of science in elementary education and worked for more than 30 years as a teacher in Philadelphia. Bobby joined her to teach high school science after working as a chemical engineer for 10 years and rediscovering himself during a teaching opportunity.

Together, they taught thousands of students and saved up to send their granddaughter to college, who graduated this year. Now they want to open more doors for students who are otherwise shut out.

The couple created the Bobby Stewart and Catherine Jennings Stewart Endowed Scholarship to support students who have a financial need and are studying engineering or education. They also honored their roots to highlight students from underserved populations as preferred recipients, as well as those from Philadelphia and first-generation college students.

“It’s been our goal ever since we’ve been working as teachers to try to lift up our students and lift up the people around us, inspire, do what you can do to encourage,” Catherine said. “As we have risen up, we have to lift other people up.”

“As we have risen up, we have to lift other people up.”

As students, Bobby and Catherine, both African American, had experiences on campus that differed from the majority of their classmates. Bobby said he was the only African American student in his engineering class, and Catherine described it as culture shock to attend a non-urban, predominantly white, Catholic school.

“It was a unique experience,” Catherine said. “It was challenging on all levels, but as we grow, we learn to sit where we are and do what we need to do. It was eye-opening to learn to accept people and their different values.”

Catherine took those lessons to heart. While teaching mostly African American students, she worked with colleagues and administrators who predominantly were not. She said she practiced the tolerance she learned from UD, which “enabled [her] to go forward.”

That kind of perseverance — learning to adapt, be flexible, stay open and engaged — is what she hopes students lean into, too, to find success in an “ever changing world.”

“Since we’re both graduates from the University of Dayton and we have greatly benefited from the experience, we want others to have the same,” Catherine said. “We live in a diverse world and we have to understand the value of education. We need to have faith in people and in ourselves, and lean on that when times are tough and I think we got those values from the University of Dayton.”

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