Foundation support accelerates Institute for Urban Education growth, progress
Despite the challenges of the last year, the University of Missouri-Kansas City Institute for Urban Education (IUE) in the School of Education is successfully affecting student success and teacher retention through its programming in urban schools, thanks in part to significant and steady support from major donors.
“We have very high expectations and high levels of support for our students,” Jennifer Waddell, Ph. D., director, Institute for Urban Education and Sprint Foundation Endowed Professor in Urban Education says. “Major gifts from the Sherman Family Foundation and the Sunderland Foundation – who also have high expectations in a very positive way – demonstrate their belief in the program, which is very reaffirming.”
The Sherman Family Foundation has been a longtime, consistent supporter and advocate of IUE. While there are many organizations that work toward advancing education and bolstering opportunity in underserved communities, Joseph Allen, a director at the foundation, says the IUE meets all the criteria for the Sherman Family Foundation board.
“We have three career educators on our board,” he says. “We know how important classroom teachers are. We are aware of how difficult it is to close the gaps in academic markers and graduation rates for students in the urban core. Hope is often the backbone of philanthropy. The Sherman Foundation board wants to invest in programs that have a certain degree of promise in addition to hope. We want to see that the proposed solution can move the needle.”
Allen says Waddell was instrumental in the Sherman Foundation board making their commitment for support.
“One thing we knew for sure was that IUE had a strong, dedicated leader in Jennifer.”
“These two donors’ gifts are important because when the boards of the Sherman Family Foundation and the Sunderland Foundation invest in us, it demonstrates a belief in us and the work we are doing.” – Jennifer Waddell
In addition to program leadership, the long-term research component of the IUE program has been critical to the Sherman Foundation support.
“Sometimes we say ‘no’ to people who do great work,” he says. With each opportunity we ask ourselves, ‘Does the organization or project deliver solid preliminary or proven results?’ We like to be able to see data that supports the programming. The IUE research reflects the program’s success.”
This success was due in part to the newly minted “Grow Your Own” program, which awards scholarships to high school students in urban areas who are interested in returning to teach in their alma maters. For Fall 2021, IUE awarded 42 new scholarships, despite dramatic national declines in teacher preparation over the last ten years, which were accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In total, more than 60 aspiring teachers will be part of the IUE in 2021-2022, the largest enrollment in the program’s history.
“When we talk to the young people in our ‘Grow Your Own’ program they say they want to be teachers because they want to make a difference,” Waddell says. “Our enrollment is almost double what we thought it would be. We are thrilled to have the Sherman Foundation and the Sunderland Foundation as partners in this success.”
The Sunderland Foundation is a significant UMKC funder, donating more than $15 million for building improvements in the last couple of years. But a change in their guidelines – funding had been restricted to capital expenses – allowed the foundation to support UMKC in different ways.
“Our main mission is still construction,” Kent Sunderland, president of the Sunderland Foundation, says. “But as the makeup of our board of directors shifted – six of the nine board members are now millennials – we began looking for ways to make a bigger impact with social justice initiatives.”
As Sunderland was looking for opportunities to meet the community’s needs, he contacted Leo Morton, former UMKC Chancellor, and Jerry Reece, UMKC Trustee.
“Working with IUE gives us the opportunity to support needed scholarships for students from the urban core, who will return to the urban core to teach.” – Kent Sunderland
“Jerry and Leo are committed to the success of the IUE initiative and outlined the value of the program,” Sunderland says. “Working with the IUE gives us the opportunity to support needed scholarships for students from the urban core, who will return to the urban core to teach. In addition, we were encouraged by the research that supports the program – that students of color in urban schools perform better with teachers of color who understand their environment.”
“These two donors’ gifts are important because when the boards of the Sherman Family Foundation and the Sunderland Foundation invest in us, it demonstrates a belief in us and the work we are doing,” Waddell says. “With these gifts, we hear them ask, ’How can we help make this happen because we believe in your program?’”
Waddell notes that while national enrollment in teacher preparation is down dramatically – and has been declining over the last ten years – the IUE has met their enrollment goals for the year.
“The 2021 class will be the largest in our history,” Waddell says.
“If these graduates stay in their positions, that’s success.” Allen says. “Waddell’s teachers are well-prepared and do stay – 90% of the IUE’s graduates are still in the classroom.”
Carolyn Barber, interim dean, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation/Missouri Endowed Faculty Chair and professor, recognizes the significance of the Sherman Family Foundation and the Sunderland Foundation gifts.
“We are excited and honored by both the financial support and philosophical conviction of the Sherman Family Foundation and the Sunderland Foundation,” Barber says. “Both organizations are pillars of Kansas City’s philanthropic community. Having them in our corner is more than a financial win, it reinforces the credibility of the program and allows us to exponentially expand student opportunity.”