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Advancement News

Giving Back to the Beacon of Opportunity

Posted Jun. 3, 2010
Catherine Ross
Alumna's gift acknowledges impact of education
through minority student scholarship funding

Like so many young people, Catherine Ross’ university experience shaped her future life and career in unexpected ways. But for the 1971 College of Arts and Sciences graduate, events outside the classroom during the late ‘60s were as transformative as those inside.

It was a time of protests about the Vietnam War, about the treatment of women and minority students — and Ross was in the middle of a diverse group of activists.

“There was a coalition and cohesiveness around issues that transcended community,” she says. “It didn’t matter — we were all tied together. What were civil rights for all of us?”

Ross’ immersive university experience might not have been possible for many young people from her working-class background. Neither of her parents had the opportunity to attend college, “which made it paramount in their minds, and paramount in my life, to get an education,” she says.

A partial scholarship from the university, and its commitment to affordability, started Ross on a path to career success.

“Kent State made the difference in terms of my having an education,” she says. “And for a lot of children, particularly minority children who don’t have the means to go to college, it really has been a beacon.”

It was also, she says, “the linkage to the enlightenment to really contribute more to society.”

Ross continued her education at Cornell University, followed by post-doctoral work at the University of California, Berkeley — places that expanded her passion for social justice, as well as furthered her studies in city and regional planning.

The two are not disconnected. Through her work as the first endowed chair at Georgia Tech’s College of Architecture, and her private consulting business, Ross’ research examines planning issues as they impact sustainability, clean energy and health. It’s also a career that includes public service — as the executive director for Georgia’s first statewide transportation authority and, more recently, on two initiatives with the Obama administration.

The married mother of two credits her parents — and her Kent State experience nearly four decades ago. “I was very fortunate,” Ross says. She’s paying back through a Centennial Campaign gift of scholarship funding for minority students — helping meet one of President Lester Lefton’s top priorities around diversity.

“I like to think I am continuing the tradition that I benefitted from when Kent State gave me the award many years ago,” she says. “That I will empower and help someone take advantage of a Kent State education, and they will go on to do all of the things I have been able to do and more because of that education. That gives me good thoughts and warm feelings.”