McCourtneys make transformative gift to endow Institute for Democracy

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Penn State 2013 Philanthropists of the Year Tracy and Ted McCourtney have endowed the Penn State Institute for Democracy with a transformative gift of $3 million that will enable the institute to pursue excellence and leadership in advancing the cause of democracy.

Their gift provides the institute with a permanent endowment that will help fund student and faculty research and public outreach programs that aspire to elevate the quality of public and policy makers’ discussions of important public concerns. In response to the couple’s tremendous generosity, the University will name the Institute in their honor: The McCourtney Institute for Democracy.

A 1965 English graduate, Tracy McCourtney said, “Ted and I are very excited about the innovative work being done by outstanding Penn State students and faculty in the Institute. Our society needs to reverse the trend of gridlock politics throughout the U.S., and we believe that the institute will help advance the best practices of effective democracies and motivate not only Penn State students, but also lawmakers, policymakers and citizens to elevate governing in our country.”

“Tracy and Ted have been leading benefactors to the college for nearly two decades with their visionary gifts for many college priorities, including the Richards Civil War Era Center,” said Susan Welch, Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts. “Their latest gift gives us a tremendous opportunity to make the College of the Liberal Arts and Penn State the epicenter of innovations in democracy. We are deeply grateful for Tracy and Ted’s dedication and support of the college.”

John Gastil, director of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy, noted, “Faculty and students engaged with the institute are seeking to address difficult issues from two perspectives: first, encouraging civil discussions and rhetoric aimed at solving problems, and then, helping to understand the appropriate balance among government responsiveness, majority rule, and minority rights. We thank Ted and Tracy very much.”

After her graduation from Penn State, Tracy assisted foster children and families in New York City as a social worker. A 1960 Notre Dame engineering graduate, Ted served four years in the U.S. Navy and then earned a master of business administration degree from Harvard in 1966. For 30 years, he was a general partner at Venrock, a pioneering venture capital fund in emerging technologies and health care. Now an independent investor, Ted served on Notre Dame's Board of Trustees and remains an emeritus trustee.

The McCourtneys' philanthropy at the University of Notre Dame and Penn State has had a lasting impact on students and faculty at both schools. Their four children are involved in careers in social services, education, and business, as well.

“Tracy and Ted McCourtney are an ideal philanthropic partnership. Their professional careers have reflected a commitment to investing in people, whether in business or in families. Their many gifts to Penn State reflect a marriage of compassion and vision, one which has had a profound impact on Penn State and, especially, on the College of the Liberal Arts,” said Penn State President Rodney Erickson.

Over the years, the McCourtneys endowed three undergraduate scholarships, which have helped more than 350 liberal arts students; fellowships and scholarships for graduate students in social sciences and humanities; and faculty professorships in psychology, sociology and American history. The couple also provided critical support for the Moore Building renovation and addition that is benefiting psychology faculty and students; a lead gift to a graduate endowment in honor of Dean Welch; and a fund for the Career Enrichment Network to help students land their first job or succeed in professional or advanced studies after graduation. 

In 2013, Penn State honored Tracy and Ted McCourtney with the Philanthropists of the Year Award and inducted them into the Elm Circle of the Mount Nittany Society, which is the highest level of recognition for philanthropy.

The McCourtneys’ newest gift will help the College of the Liberal Arts reach its goals in For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students. This effort is directed toward a shared vision of Penn State as the most comprehensive, student-centered research university in America. The University is engaging Penn State’s alumni and friends as partners in achieving six key objectives: ensuring student access and opportunity, enhancing honors education, enriching the student experience, building faculty strength and capacity, fostering discovery and creativity, and sustaining the University’s tradition of quality.  The campaign’s top priority is keeping a Penn State degree affordable for students and families. The For the Future campaign is the most ambitious effort of its kind in Penn State’s history, with the goal of securing $2 billion by June 30, 2014.

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