VSU gets biggest grant ever, new name for business school
By Michael Buettner, Progress-Index
Following the award of the largest financial gift to Virginia State University in the school’s 128-year history, the Ettrick institution’s business school will bear the name of a graduate who went on to become one of the world’s leading African American entrepreneurs.
The Reginald F. Lewis Foundation on Tuesday presented VSU’s Board of Visitors with the first installment of a $1.5 million grant that will endow scholarships, student and faculty travel, and an academic achievement prize.
In recognition of the grant, VSU will rename its business school the Reginald F. Lewis School of Business.
Lewis was a 1965 VSU graduate. He attended the university on an athletic scholarship and went on to graduate from Harvard Law School. As a successful investor and entrepreneur, he became the first African American to build a billion-dollar company and was listed by Forbes magazine as one of the nation’s 400 wealthiest people.
Lewis died suddenly in 1993 at the age of 50. He had started his charitable foundation in 1987, around the same time he engineered his biggest deal, a $985 million leveraged buyout of the international division of Beatrice Foods.
Beverly A. Cooper, vice president of the foundation, said Lewis had left behind a list of things he wanted to the foundation to do, and providing help to Virginia State was among those goals. “It has taken a while to get to this point, but it’s better late than never,” she said Tuesday.
Cooper noted that Lewis had made support of education a priority for the foundation from the beginning, and in particular that “he wanted to make sure we celebrated his life at the schools he attended” because they had made his success possible.
“I am just so happy that Reginald is going to be remembered here at this campus” and that students at VSU will be inspired by his example, Cooper said.
Lewis’ mother, Carolyn Fugett, also hoped his example would be an inspiration for students to carry his principles forward in the business world. One of his guiding principles, she noted, was that “when you do for others, you get in return in so many ways.”
The foundation wanted to make sure the grant was presented while current VSU President Eddie N. Moore Jr. is still in office. He is retiring effective today but said he has agreed to lead the effort to raise $1.5 million in matching funds needed to make all the improvements the university is seeking for the business school. In fact, Moore said, he has volunteered “to raise that money and even more – my goal is $5 million.”
Moore, a member of the board of directors of Richmond-based tobacco firm Universal Corp., said the company had authorized him to make a bequest of up to $650,000 to VSU, and he will redirect $150,000 of that money to the Lewis endowment.
In addition, Moore said he is committing $150,000 from his estate to a grant challenging members of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, to which Lewis belonged, to match that amount.
The university also will be seeking federal funds to help meet the $1.5 million match amount.
The funds will be placed in an endowment, earnings on which will pay for student scholarships; student travel for academic pursuits; faculty travel and sabbatical support; and a prize to be awarded to a student at graduation who has achieved the highest level of academic performance from sophomore through senior year.
The business school is currently undergoing a major renovation and upgrade. The university recently announced that it has revamped its business curriculum to focus on technological participation and digital content, making it the first HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) in the country to move to a mainly digital delivery of core curriculum.