The Posner family of Pittsburgh recently gave $5 million to Carnegie Mellon University. The gift, made in memory of Helen and Henry Posner Jr., will create at least five undergraduate scholarships per year. These scholarships, known as Presidential Scholarships, recognize a student’s outstanding academic success and future potential.
“The gift is from our family, from Henry’s brothers as well as from Henry and me,” said Anne Molloy, Carnegie Mellon University trustee and wife of Henry Posner III. “We wanted to do something meaningful in memory or our parents.
“One organization that both Helen and Henry thought very highly of was Carnegie Mellon University,” she continued. “Henry Posner Jr. was a life member and life trustee. He didn’t sit on a lot of boards, but he thought very highly of the leadership and students at the university.
“My mother-in-law was trying to find a home for the Henry Posner Sr. and Ida Posner Rare Book and Miniature Collection and concluded that Carnegie Mellon University was a perfect match.”
For several generations the Posner family has given to Carnegie Mellon University. In 1978, Helen and Henry Posner Jr. deeded his parents’ personal collection of rare books and artifacts to Carnegie Mellon’s University Library. Included in the gift was a 1494 letter from Christopher Columbus to the Treasurer of Spain describing his voyage to America, a 1663 edition of the Third Folio of Shakespeare, a first printing of the United States Bill of Rights and Washington Irving’s 1849 “The Sketch Book.”
In 2004, the family built Posner Center, a LEED-certified facility that provides museum-quality storage and exhibit space as well as houses the Carnegie Mellon University board of trustees. The family also funded digitization of the Posner Memorial Collection and supported development of the Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project — a digitized collection of Pittsburgh’s historical Jewish newspapers: the Jewish Criterion (1895-1962), the American Jewish Outlook (1934-1962), the Y-JCC series (1926-1975) and The Jewish Chronicle (1962-2010).
Along with the Posner family’s recent gift, Molloy noted that the family funds two internships each year for CMU students to work with the Posner collection and perform research in an area of interest.
Participating students receive a $3,000 stipend to complete a one-semester internship of 15 hours per week researching and creating an exhibit in collaboration with librarians.
The purpose of the internship is to ensure that the books do more than “sit on a shelf in a vault,” said Molloy. “How are these containers of information useful today? What can we learn from them today?”
Molloy believes that the family’s recent donation would have made her in-laws proud.
“The gift is in memory of Helen and Henry Posner Jr., and I believe that they would be very pleased that the family is supporting the undergraduate education at the university,” she said, and added that they were great believers in higher education.
“The classic American story is immigrants arriving with no money and several generations later there being sufficient means created to pay it forward, and that’s what’s going on here,” noted Posner III. “The reason that there was a press release about this, the reason why we were happy to do this was hopefully to inspire others.
“It’s a wonderful way to memorialize someone, it’s something that will keep on giving,” he added. “You’re not going to see us on the benefit circuit, but in this particular case, it was a chance to lead by example. And by having a name by a donation, it’s an inspiration to others.”
Molloy and Posner hope that their gift not only inspires others to contribute to the university, but aids the advancement of Carnegie Mellon.
One of the challenges that the university faces is that it wants to build the most diverse student body, and it wants the best students. But not everyone can write that check for tuition and room and board to go to CMU, said Molloy.
“There are some absolutely fabulous students who have to go elsewhere because they don’t have financial resources,” she said. “One of president Subra Suresh’s major initiatives was to say, ‘Hey, we need to substantially increase funding for scholarship and fellowships available if we are serious about having the best and most diverse student body.’ That initiative is going strong, and we are very happy to contribute to it. Obviously, it helps the students.”
Molloy noted that maintaining a culturally, ethnically and economically diverse student body benefits the university at large. “It’s good for everybody.”
Suresh thanked the Posners in a written statement and noted the commitment to diversity.
“We thank the Posner family for their generous gift, which will help expand access to a CMU education for many students, allowing us to create an even more diverse student body. Their commitment testifies to the importance of this mission.”
Molloy claimed that she has particular hopes for those receiving the Presidential Scholarships.
Apart from the recipients having a very successful and challenging experience at CMU, she hopes that they “persist to graduation, get their degree and have a positive experience doing so, make some lifelong friends and build a connection that will last going forward with the university, going forward as alums.”
“And” she added, “hopefully, someday they will be in a position to pay it forward as well.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.