Alumnus gives $1 million for scholarships, talks importance of education


Photo Courtesy of Megan Jones

Robert Carr speaks during the Give Something Back event.

By Megan Jones, Staff Writer

Both Chancellor Robert Jones and alumnus Robert Carr have two strong principles of belief: the importance of higher education and the power of a scholarship for young adults.

Carr received a $250 scholarship from a women’s club of Lockport while in high school, and Jones received a small scholarship to attend Fort Valley State College. He later received his master’s degree from the University of Georgia as well as a doctorate from the University of Missouri.

Carr made a vow to help others receive the same opportunities as himself, so he formed the Give Something Back Foundation in 2003. The Tuesday following Thanksgiving, commonly recognized as Giving Tuesday, Carr’s foundation presented a $1 million check to the University to provide full scholarships for 50 students.

“I wish we had this program, and a person like Bob Carr was around, in the late 1900s because it would have made a big difference to me as a son of a sharecropper from southwest Georgia,” Jones said. “Maybe I would have had to only work five jobs instead of eight jobs to work my way through college.”

He said the event is a stark reminder for him about why education is so important.

“It was a life-changer and game-changer for me because there is no reason why the son of a sharecropper should be standing here before you as the chancellor for one of the greatest land grant universities in the country,” he said. “It was only through education.”

In its first year, the foundation gave five students full scholarships, but this year the foundation will fund over 200 students from various universities. Next on the foundation’s list are the University at Albany, State University of New York, where Jones served as president, and Parkland College.

Students are selected their freshman year of high school and take advanced placement courses, while maintaining a B-average. High school counselors work with the foundation to select students.

Alumna Shannon Stoffey-Keagle graduated from the University in 2007 thanks to a scholarship from the foundation. She said the process of enrolling was foreign to her family as a first-generation student. Her family didn’t know about FAFSA, couldn’t travel to tour campus and had a large amount of financial stress.

When she was a sophomore in college, her high school sweetheart said he wanted to go to college, but his mother said college was not for blue-collar workers.

“This is some of the barriers that these students are going through,” she said, adding that breaking down barriers and telling people they deserve an education are important.

Carr graduated from the University in 1966 with a bachelor’s in mathematics and went on to receive a master’s in mathematics and computer science in 1967. This year, he sold his company, Heartland Payment Systems — a Fortune 1000 company — for $4.3 billion.

The foundation is funded by donations and Carr’s estate. He credits the scholarship he received all those years ago for why he is motivated to continue giving back today.

“Champaign-Urbana was where I came to when I escaped from a pretty miserable home at 17,” he said. “It was an amazing and wonderful time. I started a company here. I adopted my oldest child while living here. A lot happened in Champaign-Urbana.”

The foundation has become his life’s work and his business interests continue so he can give more back to the foundation, he said.

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