Anonymous $1M cash gift to establish scholarships for Black engineering students at Purdue



lewis-rLDavid Robert Lewis (Photo, courtesy of Purdue University Archives and Special Collections)

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — An anonymous $1 million cash gift from a member of the Purdue University College of Engineering community will establish scholarships named in honor of the college’s first Black graduate as an impetus to energize and expand ongoing support to recruit and retain Black engineering students.

This gift extends a trend that has seen the total number of endowed scholarships for underrepresented minorities surge since 2013—from 43 to 140 as of Aug. 31 —with committed dollars quadrupling from $4.7 million to $17.2 million.

The new diversity in engineering scholarship endowment is named in memory of alumnus David Robert Lewis, who graduated from Purdue with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering in 1894. A native of Greensburg, Indiana, Lewis was one of only nine Black students who graduated from Indiana colleges between the Civil War and the year 1900.  

“There is no way to overstate the importance of this generous, timely gift,” said Purdue President Mitch Daniels.

Daniels said Purdue is recruiting minority students in every way it can. “That was the goal behind our creation of three Purdue Polytechnic High Schools, our Summer Start conditional acceptance program, our emerging Leadership Scholarships fund, and other initiatives. We are dedicated to preparing underrepresented students to enroll and succeed in STEM disciplines at the college level—and ideally at Purdue. This latest gift—and those it inspires—will help make a huge difference for the students who work toward and dream about coming to our University.”

“The David Robert Lewis Engineering Scholarship comes at a time when our college is redoubling its efforts to increase the number of Black engineering students at Purdue and to provide the climate and support they need to succeed,” said Mark Lundstrom, acting dean of the College of Engineering and the Don and Carol Scifres Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. 

“For a land-grant university like Purdue, this is simply living up to our mission of offering the opportunity for an affordable, excellent education to all of our citizens.” 

Lundstrom added that he hopes that this gift from “one of our own” will inspire others in the college to do what they can, financially or otherwise, to address this critical challenge. 

The new Lewis diversity scholarship also builds on the College of Engineering’s legacy of improving diversity and inclusion at Purdue.

The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) was conceived and founded at Purdue in 1975, launching a national model to help improve the recruitment and retention of Black engineering students.  

Similarly, Purdue’s Minority Engineering Program (MEP), which started in 1974, was instrumental in the establishment of the national launch of NSBE. MEP is another of several initiatives to improve diversity and inclusion in the College of Engineering. About 3% of Purdue students are Black or African American. 

“Central to the effort to improve access to minority students is affordability,” said Virginia Booth Womack, director of the Minority Engineering Program. “This magnificent gift presents a perfect example of how important it is to have more resources for underrepresented minority students. Over the years, we know from experience just how much philanthropy provides support that our students need both academically and financially. We are hopeful that gifts like this, as well as Purdue’s increased focus on affordability, will inspire others to contribute to scholarships and programs that are accessible to all.”  

John Gates, vice provost for diversity and inclusion, also praised the gift. “We are very grateful to this donor for their generous support of our minority scholarship efforts. This gift will have significant impact on our ability to recruit and retain engineering students of color and to provide a robust and meaningful educational experience.”

The Lyles School of Civil Engineering has long honored Lewis’s legacy as a Purdue pioneer by celebrating his memory, courage, and accomplishments—including his Purdue thesis, “Highway Road Construction,” which reviewed European road-building practices.

Lewis went on to become an educator and businessman. Lewis’s legacy also lives on in family members who live in Indianapolis. 

To contribute, go here.

About Purdue University

Purdue University is a top public research institution developing practical solutions to today’s toughest challenges. Ranked the No. 5 Most Innovative University in the United States by U.S. News & World Report, Purdue delivers world-changing research and out-of-this-world discovery. Committed to hands-on and online, real-world learning, Purdue offers a transformative education to all. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue has frozen tuition and most fees at 2012-13 levels, enabling more students than ever to graduate debt-free. See how Purdue never stops in the persistent pursuit of the next giant leap at https://purdue.edu/.

Writer: Grant Flora

Media contact: Jim Bush, 765-336-1909, jsbush@purdue.edu

Sources: Mitch Daniels, president@purdue.edu

Mark Lundstrom, lundstro@purdue.edu

Virginia Booth Womack, vwomack@purdue.edu 

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