The University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg has received its largest monetary gift in the school’s history – $30 million from the estate of alumna Irene Piscopo Rodgers.

Rodgers, a 1959 UMW graduate who died in July 2022 in New York, made a name for herself in the field of electron microscopy and helped pave the way for UMW graduates, especially women, to excel in STEM subjects of their own choosing, according to a Mary Washington news release.

The $30 million – along with other donations that Rodgers made through the years – will carry on her legacy by helping the university prepare young scholars for successful careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

“Students who benefitted from Irene’s generosity welcomed her into their lives, so she was able to observe firsthand the transformative power of her gifts,” University of Mary Washington President Troy Paino said in the release. “This unprecedented donation guarantees that exceptional students will continue to have access to a UMW education that delivers the kind of high-impact learning experiences that Irene valued so much.”

Rodgers’ gift will grow UMW’s undergraduate research program, Paino said. Students in the fields of biology, chemistry, physics, Earth and environmental sciences, computer science and math will have more opportunities to explore their research interests throughout the academic year and at the University’s Summer Science Institute, working alongside faculty mentors.

The gift also supports the creation of four new Alvey Scholarships, providing full tuition, fees, and room and board for out-of-state undergraduate students for up to four years, the release states. The four new scholarships are in addition to the eight Alvey Scholarships that Rodgers already created.

To date, 85 students have earned awards through Rodgers’ generosity, including 15 Alvey Scholarship recipients and 28 research fellowships, funded by Rodgers. Seven students received other scholarships, and 35 students received scientific presentation grants for conference travel, also established by Rodgers, university officials said.

The funding will be offered to the most promising students, said UMW Provost Tim O’Donnell.

Rodgers earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from what was then known as Mary Washington College of the University of Virginia, followed by a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Michigan. She worked for the American Cyanamid Company and Philips Electronic Instruments, where she met her husband, James “Don” Rodgers, who hired her at a time when there were few women scientists in her field.

In 2004, she donated a transmission electron microscope to Mary Washington and trained students and faculty to use it. A decade later, UMW presented Rodgers with an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters for her service and contributions to the institution. She also named a microscopy lab and several Alvey Scholarships after her late parents, Justin and Helen Piscopo.

This month’s gift, in combination with others made during her lifetime, brings her total giving to Mary Washington to nearly $39 million, officials said.

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