Odessa College spells out plans for $7 million gift

Odessa College’s plans, presented to its board of trustees during a special meeting Wednesday, run the gamut from scholarships to a presence downtown.

The college recently received a $7 million gift from MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett.

Chief of Staff Robert Rivas said officials planned to put $3.2 million toward student scholarships; $2.55 million toward the community; $1 million toward campus improvements; and $250,000 for other items.

Executive Dean of Academic Partnerships Jonathan Fuentes said the college is planning a Preview Day Fair from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. July 22 at the outdoor amphitheater where plans are to bring in first-time college students and register them on site. There are also plans to give away scholarships.

President Gregory Williams said they talked to employee groups and others with the intent of bringing the ideas to trustees Wednesday.

“… Most of these things you’ll see today are not new at all, the things that we’re already doing. As a part of Vision 2030, we want to honor what the donors’ wishes are. I think what MacKenzie Scott is thinking is that this money will help to change the world, and we want to be a part of that. She’s talking about equity and she’s talking about those who are less fortunate and she’s talking about those who need a second chance. You’re going to hear a number of these themes as we go through this process. …,” Williams said.

“Keep in mind that Vision 2030+ is not only a architectural plan, or a look at how we’re going to build and repair and deal with facilities, but it’s also a master plan,” Williams said.

Rivas said some of the funds will also go into campus improvements. The $250,000 will be set aside for flexibility. Executive Director of Advancement Jacqui Gore spoke about the Elizabeth Koonce Scholarship, created with funds from the estate of longtime Odessan Elizabeth Koonce, who left millions to local nonprofits, OC and University of Texas Permian Basin. Gore said they used $100,000 of the funds in March 2020 to provide emergency funds to OC students impacted by COVID-19.

“The remaining $2.9 million has been established as an endowed scholarship through the Odessa College Foundation to help students who need help getting back on track,” Gore said.

“This scholarship is focused on students who have a low GPA, a below average GPA, have financial need, and have stopped out, or on the verge of stopping out. We also plan to establish an emergency fund for students. Students receiving the scholarship will receive additional support that will include regular meetings with success coaches, financial education, tutoring, and progress reports to help them stay on track and document their progress. Ultimately, the Koonce scholarship is focused on helping the OC students who probably haven’t had many opportunities in support. The student who has been told, ‘no’ way too many times. This scholarship will help Odessa College give our students the second, third, or even fourth opportunity to succeed. This support will help students regain their financial aid eligibility, as well as eligibility for other OC Foundation scholarships. With this blessing from the MacKenzie Scott fund, we would like to use $2.1 million from that fund to add to the $2.9 million in the Koonce scholarship fund to make the grand total of $5 million dollars in this endowed scholarship fund. This will allow us to grant up to $250,000 in scholarships annually beginning as early as spring 2022,” Gore said. Ashley Warren, executive assistant to the president, spoke about starting the Positively OC Presidential Scholarship. “The concept for this is students would apply and every year, we would have 10 scholarships awarded to students so this is up to $1,500 that would cover their tuition and fees and would help them through school. But it’s a lot more than that, so when a student applies we would want to ask them how they are going to positively impact our community; what are they going to do, whether it be on social media or in their communities, or in their church locally. How are they going to positively impact the community,” Warren said.

With that, the college would support students in their goals. This will include meet and greets with the administrative team, community service opportunities and special programming that can be offered to these students to let them be ambassadors, not only for positivity, but for Odessa College, Warren said.

Rivas said the college also wants to establish a presence in downtown Odessa, create some green space and a multipurpose site where OC can host several types of events, for example, fundraising events and the Music Masters Series. It could also be a chance for students to set up businesses.

“We are asking for $500,000 as seed money on this project to help us begin. The land would be donated to us, if we come before the council and they agreed we will ask for a donation. Hopefully they will give us the donation of land, since we are a part of the project, and we would ask them for matching funds to help us to get started and will grow from there. …,” Williams said.

Williams said they are considering a lot where a demolished building once stood. “We’re really excited about this as a creative and innovative way to not only grow our presence downtown, but to be able to grow activities for our students to be able to learn in new and innovative ways,” he said. Vice President of Administrative Services Ken Zartner said some of the funds would also be used for the yet to be constructed Wood Health Sciences Building. He said 94 percent of the roughly $40 million goal for the building has been reached.

The board also supported using $1 million in institutional funds as a down payment for the health sciences building. Zartner said every $1 million that the college doesn’t have to go into debt for saves it $300,000 to $325,000 over time. “But because of the great work that we have done to fundraise and get us to this point, and Jackie knocking on every door possible we are in really good position now to only go after $28 million, instead of the $35 million …,” Zartner said.

Associate Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness Janice Hicks and Vice President for Instruction Tramaine Anderson spoke about transfer and completion rates and a scholarship for transfer students.

Hicks said nationally 80% of community college students plan to transfer. Some 70 percent of OC students want to go to OC and ultimately earn a bachelor’s degree.

Thirty percent nationally transferred within six years and 20 percent for OC, Hicks said. Nationally, 13 percent of students earn a bachelor’s degree.

Anderson said a transfer scholarship is planned to ensure OC students have a clear pathway that allows them to complete at OC and to help them successfully transfer and complete an undergraduate degree.