- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A billionaire alumnus of the University of Maryland has donated more than $200 million in scholarship funds to his alma mater, marking the largest philanthropic gift the university has received and one of the largest donations to a public research institute.

State officials and university administrators announced the donation Wednesday in a special event at the university’s flagship campus at College Park.

Scholarship students unfurled a large banner bearing the exact sum — $219,486,000 — in large red numerals across a stage in front of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, state House Speaker Michael E. Busch, university President Wallace Loh and Alice Clark, the widow of construction magnate A. James Clark, whose eponymous foundation donated the money.

The A. James Clark Foundation has dedicated more than 20 buildings on campus and is the benefactor behind the A. James Clark School of Engineering.

“Thousands of University of Maryland students wake up in dorms, study in academic halls or are here as a result of scholarships that bare Mr. Clark’s mark,” Mr. Hogan said on stage during the unveiling event. “[With] this incredible new investment in STEM education, the Clark family and the Clark Foundation … are ensuring that this university will continue to shine as a national and a global leader where the next fearless ideas will be developed.”

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The multimillion-dollar donation benefits at least nine programs at the university, including a $100 million grant-matching program for needs-based financial aid for students. Tuition for in-state students is around $26,000, while out-of-state students can expect to pay about $48,000.

A recent analysis by Make Lemonade, a personal finance consulting business, estimated that student loan debt is as high as $1.3 trillion in the U.S.

The Clark donation “will transform access and affordability to an education in the state’s flagship university,” Mr. Loh said. “In these days where students are struggling to pay tuition, when issues of graduating with large debts is a major national issue and the state, thanks to the leadership of Gov. Hogan, is trying to address that issue by keeping tuition affordable — now we have a transformative gift that will significantly increase access and accessibility for bright, capable and ambitious students who come from backgrounds of modest means.”

Clark died in 2015 at the age of 87 and was estimated by Forbes magazine to have a fortune of around $1.4 billion at the time. On Wednesday, he was remembered as a “no-nonsense” businessman who never forgot his humble beginnings, who sometimes had to hitchhike to the university as a student because he couldn’t afford bus fare.

Clark Construction has been involved in building some of the most iconic buildings in Maryland, Virginia and the District, as well as around the country, including the U.S. Institute of Peace, the National Museum of the American Indian and the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Event organizers had shrouded the unveiling in mystery, leaving faculty, students and invited guests unsure what was to be announced. The event’s topic was advertised as a “transformative investment” and “building together” with Maryland.

“Without question, my dad loved the University of Maryland,” said Courtney Clark Pastrick, Clark’s daughter and board chair of the foundation. “College Park was instrumental in educating and equipping him as an engineer and successful businessman. However, his legacy is in his community engagement and generosity. Our family and the foundation look forward to seeing the impact of this gift in the decades to come.”

• Laura Kelly can be reached at lkelly@washingtontimes.com.

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