Gene and Roz Chaiken establish new centers, become second-largest Penn State donors

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When perennial Penn State benefactors Gene and Roz Chaiken made their largest-ever gift in 2021 — a gift that cemented their legacy as the largest scholarship donors in Penn State history and resulted in the naming of the Susan Welch Liberal Arts Building after they had already been recognized as Philanthropists of the Year — most thought it would it be their capstone contribution to the University.

But recognition is not what motivates Gene and Roz Chaiken; helping students is.

Once again, the Chaikens have made a landmark contribution to the University. While the amount of the gift is not being disclosed publicly, it will make them the second-largest donors in Penn State history and extends their impact beyond the College of the Liberal Arts, where the bulk of their philanthropy has been focused and where they established the Roz and Gene Chaiken Center for Student Success earlier in 2021. Building upon and consolidating existing academic support services, the new gift establishes Chaiken Centers for Student Success elsewhere in the University, including Penn State Abington, the College of Information Sciences and Technology, and Penn State World Campus, as well as a University-wide student success center at University Park.

“Roz and I felt that we could extend our impact and help even more students by establishing additional Chaiken centers,” Gene said, noting that the four new centers were chosen because of their potential to succeed and to reach new populations of students.

“Through Gene and Roz’s extraordinary philanthropy, the Chaiken family is already synonymous with creating opportunity and success for students in the College of the Liberal Arts,” said Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi. “I am thrilled that students across the University will now benefit from the Chaiken’s profound generosity. Gene and Roz truly represent a commitment to the lifelong success of our students. Their impact on Penn State has been nothing short of transformative; I am so grateful for their continued support for our students through scholarship programs, academic endowments, and, of course, the new Chaiken Centers for Student Success.”

“We saw so much success with the first Chaiken Center that we were inspired to establish more centers like it,” Roz said, adding that she and Gene attribute the center’s success to the vision and leadership of Clarence Lang, Susan Welch Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts.

The Chaiken Center for Student Success in the College of the Liberal Arts promotes academic, personal, and professional success through peer mentoring, community building, partnerships with other Liberal Arts and University units, and more. While the new Chaiken Centers at Abington and University Park and within Penn State World Campus and the College of Information Sciences and Technology will tailor their programs to the needs of their particular student populations, Lang said he is pleased the first Chaiken Center provided a model for others.

“I am very grateful to Gene and Roz for investing in students and very proud that the Chaiken Center in our college, expertly led by inaugural director Patty Klug, served as an example for centers elsewhere in the University,” he said. “Penn State Abington, for example, is our most diverse campus in terms of student population, and World Campus serves important demographics that further diversify the University; I’m happy to see that Chaiken support will help a broader range of students.”

The new Chaiken Center for Student Success in Penn State World Campus will assist adult learners, members of the military, and people around the world who rely on remote learning to earn their degrees. Renata Engel, vice provost for Online Education, said she is thrilled by the opportunities the new center will afford students.

“This is the first named center we have in World Campus,” she said, noting that the funding will provide opportunities to build on current programs such as Smart Track to Success and others. “Sometimes, the word ‘transformative’ is overused, but in this case, it is completely appropriate. To have donors like Gene and Roz Chaiken invest in our students means we can forever provide online learners with the resources and support they need to succeed. It is truly inspiring.”

Vice President for Student Affairs Andrea Dowhower touted the Chaiken gift for its ability to broaden programs and connect more students to important resources.

“It’s important to address all of the factors that lead to student success — not just academic markers but also factors such as disability services, financial needs, and health and well-being,” she said. “With this gift, the Chaikens will have an even more profound impact on student success by enabling us not only to address academic needs but also reach beyond the classroom while serving students at all colleges and campuses.”

In addition to the Chaiken Centers at four new University locations, the Chaikens’ latest gift establishes a professional development fund for Chaiken Centers University-wide and adds resources to the Gene and Roz Chaiken Endowment for the Study of the Holocaust, which will be renamed the Gene and Roz Chaiken Endowment for Antisemitism Education.

For the Chaikens, giving is a way of life

Gene and Roz Chaiken met at summer camp when Gene was a rising sophomore at Penn State and Roz was a rising sophomore in high school.

“We have been together ever since,” Roz said.

They have been married for 61 years, and throughout that time, they have supported Penn State, which Gene said was the greatest influence on his life beyond his family and his bride.

The couple made their first major gift in 1998, when they joined forces with Gene’s brother, Sheldon, and his wife, Gail, to endow the Chaiken Family Chair in Jewish Studies. Since then, they have supported several endeavors and endowed the Gene and Roz Chaiken Trustee Scholarship, the Chaiken Family Trustee Scholarship, the Chaiken Centennial Graduate Endowment, and the Roz and Gene Chaiken Center for Student Success in the College of the Liberal Arts.

“Helping other people is a privilege, not a chore,” said Gene. “Those are the nine words Roz and I live by. It’s our DNA. We hope this gift inspires others to help financially or give of their time. Most of all, we hope it helps more students succeed, and we feel grateful that we are able to play a role in doing so.”

Donors like Gene and Roz Chaiken advance the University’s historic land-grant mission to serve and lead. Through philanthropy, alumni and friends are helping students to join the Penn State family and prepare for lifelong success; driving research, outreach, and economic development that grow our shared strength and readiness for the future; and increasing the University’s impact for families, patients, and communities across the commonwealth and around the world. Learn more by visiting the Giving to Penn State site.