Why I Give Back

Why I Give Back

Everyone has his or her own personal reasons for giving.  We asked these individuals, each of whom has donated to TCNJ, to share their reasons for doing so.

Grace Clee Starrett ’53

Retired educator, class agent, emeritus member of the Alumni Association Executive Board

starrettGrace spent 33 years planting the seeds of knowledge in Ewing Township’s elementary school students, first at the former Reed School, then at Fisk, and most recently at Antheil, where she taught for 19 of her 33 years before retiring in 1993. Grace said she knew she wanted to be a teacher from the time she herself was a second grader, and is grateful that the College helped her realize that goal. These days, this retired educator keeps busy tending to her garden, and has been a member of the West Trenton Garden Club for 49 years. Grace’s continued generosity has helped her alma mater continue to grow over the years as well. “I have always felt very dedicated to TCNJ. The professors were great, and the preparation I received for my life’s work was excellent,” she said.

Bob Schmidt ’55

Military veteran, retired educator, former Alumni Association president, and class agent

schmidtBob hadn’t yet completed his first year of teaching when he was drafted by the US Army in May 1956. He served for three years, working as a linguist in the “infamous” IG Farben Building in Frankfurt am Main. Upon his honorable discharge, Bob returned to the classroom where he taught biology. He later served as a high school principal for 20 years, and also served as assistant superintendent and acting superintendent before retiring in 1992. At that time, Bob and four other retired superintendents formed an educational consulting association.

Bob, who sang in the College choir as a student and was a member of Theta Nu Sigma, said he continues to sing today with the NJ Master Chorale, the Trenton German-American Society Chorus, the Hedding UMC Choir, and Titanium, the barbershop quartet of for which he sings baritone.

As a Rotarian, service and philanthropy are a way of life for this former class president. He has been a member of Rotary District 7500 Ambassadorial Scholarship Committee since 1975, serving as chairman for 10 years. He’s always given generously of his time to the College as well, from serving on the Alumni Association for 15 years to being involved in each of his class’s Reunions—including this year’s 55th. “Seems like when you’re class president in your senior year, you’re president for life,” he said with a laugh.

Bob also continues to support TCNJ financially. His reason for doing so: “I just love, love, love the College,” Bob said. “I had a wonderful four years there.”

Keith C. Figgs ’74, MEd ’79

2010 Alumni Citation Award winner, class agent, retired educator

figgsKeith, who received his BS and MEd in elementary education from the College, volunteered at the annual Children’s Literature and Storytelling Conference for 18 years after graduation. Even after taking his 16-year-long position as assistant superintendent for administration for Vineland Public Schools, Keith continued to make regular contributions to TCNJ’s Annual Fund and served as a Class Agent, working to reconnect the Class of 1974 and encourage alumni participation in the College community.

Keith received a number of honors as a student of the College, including Cum Laude recognition and membership in Kappa Delta Pi, the National Honor Society in Education. He retained this excellence throughout his post-master’s career, which traversed the realms of the elementary school classroom, adult education programs, and the administrative offices of vice-principal, principal, and assistant superintendent—a tenure during which he served as interim superintendent three times.

In 1993, Keith earned his EdD in educational leadership from the Teachers College of Columbia University. In 2001, he received the NAACP’s W.E.B. DuBois Educational Excellence Award. He went on to earn several other awards, including Cumberland County’s Administrator of the Year honor in 2007.

“I have no doubt that my success over the past 34 years is, in great part, due to the wonderful and enriching education I received as an elementary education major,” he said. “I give annually to say ‘thank you’ and to reaffirm my pride in, and loyalty to, TCNJ.”

Gina Bilotti ’88

Vice President, R&D Strategy & Portfolio Management, Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceuticals Research & Development

bilottiAlthough she started out as a business major, Gina was born to be an engineer. “I was always pretty good with my hands and fixing things,” Gina explained. “When I was young, we had a built-in pool in the backyard, and the only way we could use it to swim was if I fixed it when it was broken.” So young Gina would take the motor apart, tinker with it, and get it running again. “I figured it was already broken, so what harm could there be?”

Perhaps it was the entrepreneurial business student in her that made her realize she could put this talent to good use by fixing things for her TSC floor-mates. “I’d leave a milk crate outside my door, people would put things in that [didn’t work]—hair dryers, razors, whatever—and if I could fix it, I’d put it in another milk crate, and they’d pick it up and leave a few bucks in an envelope,” Gina said.

But it wasn’t until this former Lion softball player (she was a catcher on the 1983 National Championship softball team) took an engineering course as an elective that she realized what her calling in life was. “It changed my life…. I changed my major and I haven’t looked back since,” Gina said. After college she worked in aerospace engineering “designing next-generation guidance systems” before making the transition to engineering management.

With her numerous responsibilities as the current vice president, R&D strategy & portfolio management, for Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceuticals Research & Development, as well as raising her 4-year-old son (“I’d love for him to go to TCNJ,” Gina said) and training for her first marathon, Gina said she can’t volunteer her time with the College the way she’d like to. “So what I like to do is give back financially,” Gina said.

She credits her experiences both in the classroom and on the softball field for her continued success in the business world. “No matter how far I get from the College, I’ll never forget it, because it’s at the foundation of who I am today.”

RaShawn Adams ’97

Principal of Jefferson Elementary School, Plainfield, NJ

adamsRaShawn credits his success to the Educational Opportunity Fund Program, a full program of academic and personal support designed to help highly motivated, economically disadvantaged students to excel. “I have been blessed to have had some wonderful mentors in my life, such as Mr. James Boatwright, Mr. James “Butter” Allen, and Dr. Donald B. Leake, all of whom are mentors I encountered at Trenton State,” RaShawn said.

Following graduation, RaShawn established two funds that benefit students following the path he took to the College. He named the funds in honor of his father and his grandmother, both of whom were “major influences” in his life, albeit for different reasons.

“My father was a United States Marine and Vietnam Vet who returned home with a habit that eventually took his life,” RaShawn said. His father passed away from HIV/AIDS in 1995. He “was a motivation for me of what I didn’t want my life to become, and inspired me to have a completely different life than his. “My maternal grandmother is the matriarch of my family and raised my brother and sisters on a school security guard salary,” RaShawn said. “What we may have lacked in financial resources she more than made up for in exposure to a life of opportunities outside of the confinements of Jersey City. She is the person that is the spiritual inspiration for always letting me know that God is my life’s architect.”

As for his reason for continuing to give back to his alma mater, RaShawn said, “The fact that I’m doing what was done for me is my motivation,” he said. “I think anytime you contribute to an institution…that benefits the hopes and aspirations of others’ dreams it is a great investment. You’re making an investment in the individual, their family, the community, and even the country.”

Al Ribeiro ’02

Director of Political Affairs for Pfizer, class agent

ribieroAl started out as an engineering major in part, he said, because his father and grandfather had been engineers. “The engineering school is fantastic, and I enjoyed my classes there, but after getting involved with SGA and getting exposure to the political science world,” Al said he switched his major to political science. That in turn propelled his interest in politics he said, and he has worked on numerous campaigns, including the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Rudy Giuliani.

Al also received an MBA from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, and said his current position as director of political affairs for Pfizer allows him to mix his passion for policy and politics with his business training.

He attributes much of his success to his experiences at TCNJ. “I feel a close connection to TCNJ. It propelled my career and I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing,” he said in explaining his reason for continuing to give back to his alma mater.

As SGA president, Al said he was very involved with the College as a student. “I saw how far alumni giving and participation can go, and how much of an impact they can have—not just for current students, for the personality of the institution as well. Having seen that, I have full faith that the College is going to be a good steward of my donation.”

“If you think of your four years in college as an investment in yourself, the only way your investment is going to appreciate is by being actively involved and continuing to give back to your alma mater,” Al said.

William “Bill” DeMeritt

Professor Emeritus of English, founder and former coordinator of TCNJ’s Honors Program

demerittAlthough he retired several years ago, Bill’s six-figure commitment in support of a provost’s discretionary continues to support undergraduate research here at TCNJ.

“I felt very privileged to be involved with the College, and… the gift was an appropriate way to give back because of what the school had given me,” Bill explained. “I’ve come to understand the value of research, and I think that if our country is to maintain its lead in the world, it will be through research and development. If I can help a few students get involved with that in a preliminary step, I think that’s awfully good.”

Something else that’s awfully good: Bill’s gift not only helps the College, but it also helps him. His initial donation came in the form of a charitable gift annuity, so he and his wife, Barbara, collect quarterly interest as well as tax-savings incentives from the donation.

As Bill put it: the donation “pays me as well as being a gift to the College, so it’s mutually beneficial.”

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