What $93 million can do for LAS


Scott Siepker speaks on behalf of the Iowa State University Foundation in regard to the largest donation they’ve ever received, which was announced early Wednesday morning.

Michael Heckle

Excited beyond belief seems to be the general consensus of many in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences after it was announced last week that the college would see a $93 million gift, generously donated by two anonymous alumni. An unprecedented amount for the LAS college, donated in a rather unusual way, last week’s gift presents a tremendous opportunity not only for students in LAS programs, but for the university as a whole. 

How does it work?

The gift, one of the largest in university history, comes in the form of a majority stake in the Massachusetts education company Curriculum Associates, LLC.

The ISU Foundation currently holds the majority stake, valued at about $93 million, and the plan is to sell the company within the next few years, said Beate Schmittmann, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. 

Once the company is sold, the share of the profits corresponding to the stake of ownership will go directly to the ISU Foundation, which will invest the money in endowments for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. 

Frank Ferguson, founding investor and former CEO of Curriculum Associates, attended Iowa State from 1947 to 1950, according to the Des Moines Register. He majored in science journalism with minors in education and psychology. Ferguson also was actively involved in the theater program, earning on-stage credits in “Tartuffe,” “Yellow Jacket” and “Our Town.”

What’s next for LAS?

While the entirety of the gift will be dedicated to LAS programs, Schmittmann said the initial areas of focus will be the Greenlee School of Journalism, the theater program and new programs in data science. 

More specifically, the donation will be be used to fund scholarships, support student internships and make study abroad options more financially feasible for students. 

“As you know, increasing numbers of internships nowadays are no longer paid,” Schmittman said. “We are going to use some of these resources to support student internships. I would also like to give more students the opportunity to study abroad.”

As for the theater program, Schmittman hopes to use the money to not only fund day-to-day operations but to expand the program’s influence and bring new experiences to Iowa State.

“What I hear again and again from the students and faculty is they would like to be working with well-known directors and artists,” Schmittmann said. “We can also give our faculty the opportunity to accept a guest role in a production somewhere else that helps spread the reputation of the program.”

Jane Cox, director of the theater program, described the anonymous donors, who have given to the program in the past, as guardian angels.

“I always think that some of the greatest things in your life and the unhappiest things in your life all just drop into your lap without much warning,” Cox said. “And you just think, where did that come from? It’s such a wonderful surprise from a truly wonderful human being.” 

Cox said the theater program saw a donation from this individual last year, though a much smaller amount. The majority of that donation went toward funding scholarships.

The funds from this latest gift will also go toward developing a new program in the LAS college: data science. 

“Data science is a new program that we are currently working on,” Schmittmann said. “The degrees don’t exist yet, but we hope to be able to develop them relatively soon. [The gift] gives us an opportunity to support that first group of students with scholarships.

In addition to supporting students, some of the money will go toward developing new opportunities for faculty.

For example, Schmittmann hopes to put in place named facility positions at the Greenly School to recognize educational excellence and give back to effective and successful teachers. 

While the funds will initially go to efforts in those programs, the $93 million will touch almost every student on campus. 

“A lot of the faculty members we have in the college interact with students from different majors,” Schmittman said. “If you look at chemistry, physics, English, the social sciences, humanities, [LAS faculty] teaches students from all over campus because students come to us to meet some of their general education requirement.”

A historic donation

While both Schmittman and Cox confirmed that this was not the first donation this couple has made to Iowa State, it’s certainly the largest. 

“[The donor] really wanted something that would be a benefit to the students,” Cox said. “It’s just lovely. … He thinks about the students a lot because he remembers what he went through and he wants to make life easier for [the students].”

The $93 million donation is by no means a small amount, but for the LAS college, such a donation is almost unheard of. 

“We raise funds all the time, and we have certainly received donations in the upwards of a million range, but this is unprecedented, I believe, for Liberal Arts and Sciences,” Schmittman said.

The donation will generate revenue on an annual basis, making it a gift that will impact Iowa State University, and its students, for years to come.