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Column: Cousins family helps Oglethorpe University be an ‘important institution’ to Atlanta

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on May 26, 2017

Oglethorpe University has friends and family to thank for launching a new building effort on the heels of completing the most ambitious fundraising campaign in its history.

Among its closest friends are Tom and Ann Cousins, who have given Oglethorpe a $2.5 million lead gift for the university’s new Center for Science and Innovation, the largest single gift the institution has ever received from an individual family.

Oglethorpe Lawrence Schall

Oglethorpe President Lawrence Schall (Photo by Becky Stein)

The new $20 million center will be built on the university’s historic quadrangle, and it will include new science labs as well as an innovation component that will distinguish Oglethorpe among its peers — connecting liberal arts to experiential learning.

Oglethorpe President Larry Schall said the new Center will involve innovative work across disciplines. It will be named for the father of Tom Cousins. “It’s recognition not only for this gift but for their giving over the past decade,” Schall said.

Lillian Giornelli, daughter of Ann and Tom Cousins and CEO of the Cousins Foundation, said her family enjoys a long history and deep connection to Oglethorpe.

“My grandfather, I.W. ‘Ike’ Cousins was a proud 1927 graduate,” Giornelli wrote in an email. “He was a science major and three-sport letterman. In addition to that personal family history, under Larry Schall’s leadership, the university has been an important partner in the work we are doing in the East Lake community.

“Oglethorpe students mentor at Drew Charter School, they host Drew students for college experience days, and President Schall serves as chair of the East Lake Foundation board,” she added. “We are delighted to play a lead role in this next phase of Oglethorpe’s continued growth in memory of Ike Cousins and in honor of the leadership of President Schall.”

The campaign for the building is in its initial phase, and it is being chaired by Tim Tassopoulos, president of Chick-fil-A Inc., who attended Oglethorpe; as well as Cameron Bready, CFO of Global Payments; and Ceree Eberly, chief people officer of The Coca-Cola Co.

Ground-breaking is scheduled for the spring of 2018 with the center expected to open by August 2019.

Ann and Tom Cousins

Ann and Tom Cousins at a recent event at the East Lake Country Club (Photo by Maria Saporta)

In all, the Cousins family has donated more than $5 million to Oglethorpe over the past 11 years. The Cousins family also was the lead funder for Oglethorpe’s Center for Civic Engagement, which opened in 2006.

Schall said Oglethorpe had just completed a campaign which had a $40 million goal but raised $50 million. And the campaign for the Center of Science and Innovation began “on the heels of the largest effort we have undertaken, and we’re halfway there thanks to trustees and friends like the Cousins,” he said.

Looking back on his 12-year tenure at Oglethorpe, Schall said there were 170 students in the first year class in 2005. This year, there will be 350.

“Our goal has been to be an important institution to Atlanta,” Schall said. “As Oglethorpe has become more and more successful in being an important citizen to Atlanta, the community has responded.”

By the way, on July 1, Schall will become Georgia’s longest-serving university president — including public and private institutions.

Ruth Austin Knox will retired from Wesleyan College effective June 30 — completing a 15-year tenure as the president of the women’s college in Macon.

“That’s scary to think about,” Schall said of his own tenure, but then he added: “I’m hanging around for a little while longer.”

Georgia Research Alliance

Two new Georgia Research Alliance eminent scholars will be moving their operations to Georgia.

Georgia Research Alliance

Steve Wrigley, chancellor of the Georgia Board of Regents, visits with two state university presidents – UGA’s Jere Moorhead and Georgia Tech’s Bud Peterson – after GRA’s board meeting (Photo by Maria Saporta)

The appointments were announced at GRA’s quarterly meeting on May 18. The organization includes top executives, civic leaders and the presidents of eight research institutions all focused on nurturing Georgia’s high tech sector.

Dr. Xin-Yun Lu, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, will be joining Augusta University as a GRA Eminent Scholar in Translational Neuroscience.

Dr. Lu is studying the regulation of mood and emotion by hormonal signals of energy balance and metabolism. Through her research, she is exploring the use of fat-cell derived hormones as novel therapies for mood disorders, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The second eminent scholar coming to Georgia is Dr. Marvin Whiteley, who is director of the John R. LaMontagne Center for Infectious Disease at the University of Texas-Austin.

Dr. Whiteley will be a GRA Eminent Scholar of Biological Sciences at Georgia Tech. According to GRA, Dr. Whitely is a world-renowned microbiologist performing groundbreaking research to improve understanding of how microbial interactions shape disease with a particular expertise in cystic fibrosis.

GRA university presidents

Four of the eight university presidents who are part of the Georgia Research Alliance sat by each other at the meeting on May 18: (from left to right): Mercer’s William Underwood, Emory’s Claire Sterk, Georgia State’s Mark Becker and Georgia Tech’s Bud Peterson (Photo by Maria Saporta)

The Georgia Research Alliance was formed in 1990 to attract top researchers to the state in much the same way companies and economic development prospects are recruited.

GRA President Mike Cassidy said there currently are 76 endowed eminent scholars. While there are 11 vacancies, eight candidates are currently in serious negotiations to come.

At one time, GRA had hoped to have about 100 eminent scholars, but now it wants to be sure to have all the endowed positions filled.

“We have not asked the state for new endowment funding in six years,” Cassidy said. But he added that GRA still needs the state to provide funding to build out the lab and research facilities for the eminent scholars it is recruiting.

Meanwhile, GRA and partners are working to put together funds to have an eminent scholar at the Morehouse School of Medicine. That scholar would head the Satcher Health Leadership Institute.

The Institute is named for Dr. David Satcher, who recently retired from that position and who served as U.S. Surgeon General from 1998 to 2001.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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