Penn State receives $3 million donation for democracy education, research

mdawson@centredaily.comMarch 27, 2014 

Ted and Tracy McCourtne donated $3 million to establish an endowment for the Democracy Institute at Penn State.


A New York couple have donated $3 million to Penn State to give financial support to the Democracy Institute in the College of Liberal Arts, the university announced Thursday.

The endowment from Tracy McCourtney, a 1965 Penn State graduate, and her husband, Ted, will provide funding to further education and research on democracy across the campus. That means the university will invest the money and the interest made is what can be spent.

In a news release, the university called the donation “transformative” and said it would name the institute in their honor, The McCourtney Institute for Democracy.

The institute is a collaboration of two research centers, and its goals include educating citizens about the political process, studying the pressures that sway politicians and shape public policy decisions, and re-create the spirit of civic engagement. Recent events on campus sponsored by the institute include a lecture about the Arab Spring and the West by an expert on the Middle East and democracy.

“We believe that the institute will help advance the best practices of effective democracies and motivate not only Penn State students, but also lawmakers, policymakers and citizens to elevate governing in our country,” Tracy McCourtney said.

The McCourtneys, honored as the university’s philanthropists of the year in 2013, have in previous years endowed student scholarships and faculty professorships. They also provided funding for a renovation and addition to Moore Building.

Susan Welch, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said that the McCourtneys’ latest generosity will give Penn State the chance to become the “epicenter of innovations in democracy.”

The director of the institute, John Gastil, said the funding will allow the university to harness existing strengths of faculty expertise in democracy across the campus.

Tracy McCourtney was a social worker after graduation. Her husband is an investor and an emeritus trustee of his undergraduate alma mater, the University of Notre Dame.

The donation will count toward the $2 billion goal in the university’s fundraising campaign, which will conclude June 30. The university will have a public celebration to mark the drawing down of the campaign with students, employees and alumni on April 11, which is the day before the annual Blue-White spring football game.

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