Mary S. and William T. Southards Scholarship to Benefit First-generation College Students

Mary and Tom Southards grew up in different states but shared similar goals. Both dreamed big in their small towns.

Accomplishing those dreams meant they would be among the first in their families to go to college. For Mrs. Southards, earning a college degree in the 1970s led to a career outside of the home; for Mr. Southards, it entailed a different kind of opportunity. While most people in his hometown went to work at the local textile mill, Mr. Southards’ plans exceeded those four walls.

“Even though our parents didn’t go to college, they valued education and saw education as a way to move up and enhance your quality of life,” says Mrs. Southards, assistant dean for enrollment management at Kent State University at Stark. “Having had the benefit of that, it seemed right.”

The Southards worked their way through college, completing both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. During her more than 35-year tenure at Kent State Stark, Mrs. Southards has watched students work hard to pay tuition semester by semester as they study their way to graduation day.

As the Southards look forward to retirement, they have planned to give back to Kent State through an estate gift.

“It just seemed appropriate to set aside funds to support students who are the first in their families to go to college,” Mrs. Southards says. “It's a life-changing step.” 

The Mary S. and William T. Southards Scholarship will benefit first-generation college students and is made possible by the Southards naming the university as beneficiary of an existing life insurance policy.

“This is something we felt we could, and should, do,” Mrs. Southards explains.

Karen Romas, Kent State Stark’s director of advancement, says gifting an existing life insurance policy is just one option available when planning an estate.

“Besides life insurance policies, donors can name Kent State as a beneficiary of their individual sheltered retirement accounts, bank accounts or brokerage accounts,” Ms. Romas explains. “These are some of the easiest and cost-free ways to help students if a gift at this time isn’t possible.”

“A college education truly changed my life, and my husband’s,” Mrs. Southards says.

Her husband continues his work in the College of Aeronautics and Engineering at the Kent Campus as an outreach program manager. Mr. Southards sees the same work ethic in his students at the Kent Campus as Mrs. Southards has witnessed at Kent State Stark.

“More than anything else, I think about how the campus changes people’s lives and their families, and, quite often, the culture of the community,” Mrs. Southards says.

“I can’t imagine spending my career anywhere else,” she adds. “When you believe in what you do, you have such an opportunity to make a positive, everlasting impact.”