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$6.8M Gift to University of Maryland to Extend Opportunities to Local Students

Unlikely Family Connection Drew Donors to Support Incentive Awards Program


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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – University of Maryland will receive a nearly $7 million gift from a Boston couple that will significantly increase the size and long-term impact of a University of Maryland program that supports promising students from selected areas of the state.

The gift will allow the Incentive Awards Program (IAP)—which until now comprised students in Prince George’s County and Baltimore— to expand its reach. Starting in Fall 2021, five freshmen from Montgomery County will be awarded four-year scholarships, receive mentoring and join a tight-knit peer community. These scholarships will be made possible through the funding from Phillip and Elizabeth Gross and a matching grant from UMD and the Clark Challenge for the Maryland Promise Program (MPP).

This is the largest-ever donation to IAP, now celebrating its 20th anniversary, and to the Maryland Promise Program, created by a 2017 investment from the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation to provide scholarships to underserved populations from the state of Maryland and D.C.

“We’re leveraging matching grant money, and we’re supporting outstanding students in a program where they have a very high chance to succeed and high expectations to perform and impact the community,” Phill Gross said. “Put that together and it was easy for us to get involved.”

That’s despite the fact that he graduated from another Big Ten school, the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW), and the Grosses previously had no direct connection to the University of Maryland or the program. What drew them in was their relationship to a similar program at UW founded, coincidentally, by the mother-in-law of IAP’s founding director, Mercile J. Lee.

Phill Gross, co-founder and managing director of Adage Capital Management, a money management firm in Boston, was interested in supporting his alma mater 20 years ago when he met Lee, who had established UW’s Chancellor’s Scholars Program and Powers-Knapp Scholars Program to welcome talented students from underrepresented groups. The paired programs emphasized service, leadership development, peer support and mentorship, and provided financial aid and Lee’s inimitable influence.

The Grosses made several major gifts to the UW program, with the last one scheduled for November 2018. Unfortunately, Lee passed away in October 2018 and did not get to see the impact of the gift. Following Lee’s death, the couple met Lee’s son, Robb, and daughter-in-law, Jacqueline Wheeler Lee who leads the IAP and began inquiring about supporting the IAP.

The new Mercile J. Lee Maryland Promise Incentive Awards Program Endowed Scholarship will fund 20 students from Montgomery County; IAP currently counts 64 scholars, including some of the 23 MPP scholars.

“This gift will catapult IAP toward its long-term goal of welcoming students from every county in Maryland. It isn’t just expanding the number of opportunities we’re extending to students, but it’s also expanding our reach,” Jackie Lee said. “It's so meaningful for me personally as well. I'm touched knowing that the impact of Mercile's life is even more widely felt. Her enduring legacy will now live on through the scholars this gift will support."

The gift, the biggest to the university since Dr. Darryll J. Pines assumed his presidency in July, supports both of his top priorities: to promote excellence and to create an inclusive, multicultural campus community.

“I’m energized by the generosity of Phill and Liz Gross, whose approach to philanthropy is uniquely unbound by geography or personal affiliation,” Pines said. “By giving to IAP and the Maryland Promise Program, they are expanding access to a world-class University of Maryland education, and we are deeply grateful.”

For more information about the program visit:


Incentive Awards Program

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