Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2009 | 10:38 a.m.
UNLV President Neal Smatresk this morning announced the largest active endowed student scholarship program in the history of Nevada higher education -- $12.6 million from the Engelstad Family Foundation.
Smatresk's announcement drew a standing ovation from the standing-room only crowd at the UNLV Foundations Building.
Recipients of the competitive undergraduate scholarships will meet the eligibility requirements for federal Pell grants, which means they will be high-need students, Smatresk said.
The recipients, who will be known as Engelstad Scholars, will also be expected to participate in community service projects. While other organizations will likely be added to the list, the first partners will be local Boys & Girls Clubs, the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy and Three Square, the regional food bank.
"We definitely want to make sure our campus culture is one where people understand we have something to give back to the community," Smatresk said.
In September, the Andre Agassi Foundation for Children -- which supports the Agassi Prep charter school in West Las Vegas, announced a $7.5 million gift from the Engelstad Family Foundation. Given that commitment -- which will be spread over five years -- connecting the Engelstad Scholars program to Agassi Prep was a natural fit, Marsha Irvin, the charter school's chancellor, said.
Smatresk said the Engelstad Scholars will help Nevada students who struggle to find the money to pay for college, a gap that is widening given the reductions in state support and the dwindling reserves of the Millennium Scholarship fund.
Since its inception in 2002, the Engelstad Family Foundation has donated more than $217 million to support causes in Nevada, Minnesota, Mississippi and North Dakota. Recent local gifts include $35 million to the Nevada Cancer Institute. The family's patriarch, the late Ralph Engelstad, was the former owner of the Imperial Palace. His daughter, Kris Engelstad McGarry, graduated from UNLV in 1992 with a bachelor's degree in psychology, earning a second bachelor's in social work three years later.
McGarry told the audience this morning her father had been the first in his family to go to college and would not have been able to afford it had he not won an athletic scholarship.
McGarry said she considered the key component of the Engelstad Scholars program to be the community service requirement.
"It is an experience that will change all of their lives," McGarry said. "They will leave a better person."