Flexibility for the Future

Kathleen Dennis, a UAlbany Foundation board member (and avid equestrian), and Edelgard Wulfert, the former dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, have both pledged large gifts to the college.

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 7, 2019) – Two gifts totaling over $1 million dollars will help ensure student success at the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) far into the future, thanks to a loyal alum and the college’s former dean.

Kathleen Dennis ‘75, a University at Albany Foundation board member, has pledged $350,000 to the University’s largest ever campaign, This Is Our Time, to support The Kathleen Dennis ’75 College of Arts & Sciences Opportunity Fund. Edelgard Wulfert, now UAlbany’s Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, is committing $850,000 to support the CAS Dean's Fund for Excellence, the RNA Institute and a scholarship for an undergraduate psychology major. Wulfert has also established a separate endowment to support Initiatives for Women.

Though the donations alone are noteworthy, the roads that led Dennis and Wulfert to their decisions and the motivation behind them also stand out.

An economics major, Dennis particularly enjoyed the campus diversity and the out-of-classroom experiences UAlbany afforded, such as the opportunity to work for a state assembly member. But after graduating, launching a career in banking and pursuing a graduate degree, UAlbany seemed like a distant memory.

Then she received mail from UAlbany. “I thought it was interesting how thousands of people later, I was still on UAlbany’s radar,” she said. “So I wrote a little check.”

That “little check” rekindled a connection to UAlbany. After moving back to the area for work, Dennis grew closer to the University thanks in part to then-president Patrick Swygert and Foundation staff who would make sure she felt like she was involved in the campus community.

“My time working in Albany made me realize how much the school had changed, and I was so impressed with some of the things that were going on.”

Dennis eventually served on the CAS Dean’s Advisory Board and in 2012, she joined the University Foundation Board as a director. Even after relocating to Florida, she remained an integral part of the University community. When speaking about her donation, Dennis stresses the importance of being flexible.

“If I’m going to support something, it’s not my job to spend it,” Dennis said. “The decisions of how to spend my donations are best made by the people in the organization - and that direction might change from year to year.”

Dennis doesn’t hesitate to shout the praises of CAS, and of Wulfert. Dennis recalls a couple years ago when money she donated was used to send a student to Spain to present a paper.

“Elga sent me a note about what the funds were used for along with the paper itself. That was exciting – it was like touching and feeling something I had helped with,” she said. “And that’s just one example of what I’ve liked about working with Elga and the College of Arts & Sciences.”

The connection between Dennis and Wulfert doesn’t stop with a mutual affinity for one another and of CAS’ future, but continues with similar views about the importance of supporting a diverse institution.

“I’ve been treated very well at UAlbany and have enjoyed a rewarding career here,” Wulfert said. “The most important point to me is to give back to a place that has allowed me to make a difference and where I’ve seen firsthand the value of having access to resources.”

In choosing which areas of the University to support, Wulfert’s more than 30 years in CAS - first as professor in the Department of Psychology, then chair of the department and eventually, from 2009-2019, as dean - came into play.

The RNA Institute was established at CAS in 2009 under Wulfert’s leadership as dean. “The work of the RNA Institute is near and dear to my heart, so it was undoubtedly important for me to support its work.”

Wulfert is also a strong proponent of supporting graduate students and junior faculty with their research endeavors, something she stresses is particularly important at a Research 1 institution like UAlbany. Throughout her decades of holding administrative positions, she continued to conduct her own federally funded research while at the same time mentoring graduate students – something that is not often done by full-time administrators.

“I am very proud of my doctoral students. Many of them have gone on to be very productive researchers. My last student is currently in a post-doctoral position at Yale University.”

Providing resources for students as well as junior faculty is one reason why financially supporting Initiatives for Women (IFW) is also important to Wulfert. She recalls when she was an untenured, assistant professor without funding to hire a graduate student assistant to support her research. IFW provided her with enough money to pay a graduate student for a summer. “After that, I was able to attract my first research grant.”

Two women with drastically different careers previously connected just by their appreciation of the College of Arts & Sciences and of each other, now share a new connection – as major donors who are ensuring student success long into the future.

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