Maroon and Gold Leaders Giving Program: small amounts build into a mountain of giving

For as far back as she can remember, Arizona State University Professor Teri Kennedy loved spending time with older folks.

At family gatherings growing up, she was the child who hung out with the parents and grandparents. “I always wanted to sit and listen to them,” she remembers. “I thought they were so interesting.”

So it’s fitting that her life’s work pays tribute to the generations that came before her.

Director of the Office of Gerontological Social Work Initiatives in ASU’s College of Public Programs, Kennedy promotes best practices in health care for older adults.

One thing she’s learned in 17 years at ASU: to have a vibrant program, you need to cultivate a vibrant body of students.

There’s even a word for it: generativity.

It’s defined as “the need to nurture and guide younger people and contribute to the next generation.”

Five years ago, Kennedy decided the best way to do that was to create a scholarship endowment, a permanent income stream that would inspire students to pursue a career in gerontological social work.

First, she endowed a $10,000 scholarship.

Then, Kennedy became the first faculty member at ASU to commit to endowing a Maroon and Gold Leaders Giving scholarship, a matching gift program designed to create a culture of philanthropy among faculty and staff at ASU.

With the Maroon and Gold program, ASU will match 4 percent of an endowed commitment of at least $25,000 for 10 years, for a total match of $10,000.

What is remarkable about Kennedy is the way she established her endowments.

Week after week, one paycheck at a time, Kennedy is building her endowments through payroll deductions.

“I’m not wealthy; I’m an administrative professional,” Kennedy says. “But this was something I really wanted to do. This was something I believed in.”

While $25,000 seemed a daunting figure at first, Kennedy says she has been surprised by how easy it has been to chip away at the total. She endowed her $10,000 scholarship within five years.

She had the honor last December of seeing the first award given to Neda Spiric, a senior pursuing a degree in social work. Scholarship awards often mean a student doesn’t have to choose between paying the rent and paying for books, Kennedy says.

She knows this from experience.

She received a scholarship when pursuing her master’s in social work and it meant a great deal, financially and emotionally. “It’s so important for my students to be recognized for their effort and their potential,” Kennedy says.

And the benefits extend both ways, she says. An endowment is a great way for faculty members to impact the future of their field, to “invest in those who are the future.”

It’s also a way to honor someone who had a significant influence in a faculty member’s life. “If we think back, we all realize that somebody helped us,” Kennedy says. “You give back — it’s the circle of life.”

Kennedy’s endowment, the Gerontological Social Work Endowed Scholarship, is a tribute to her late parents, Stanley and Bernadine Knutson, and grandparents, Albert and Emma Berg and Selmer and Myrtle Knutson.

Individuals who would like to honor the life and legacy of their elders may contribute to the Gerontological Social Work Endowed Scholarship through a Tree of Life, a donation portal found at

Those interested in creating a Maroon and Gold scholarship endowment may contact Mary Negri at the ASU Foundation, 480-965-0878 or