In a press conference held at Indiana University Northwest on Friday, Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter announced that his office, through the Emerson Neighborhood Trust, has donated approximately $675,000 to the IU Foundation in support of endowed scholarships for students from Gary’s Emerson neighborhood to attend IU's Northwest Indiana regional campus.
It is the single largest donation ever made to IU Northwest, and it will guarantee that local students enjoy financial backing to pursue their educational goals. Although the scholarship fund has been earmarked specifically for students from a certain geographic area within the city – the Emerson neighborhood – it may also become available to students throughout Gary, depending on the number of Emerson-area students who ultimately apply.
Friday’s announcement, ironically enough, came as the result of the downfall of the Gary Urban Enterprises Association (GUEA), which was part of a statewide program to promote economic growth in struggling geographic areas. Several years ago, state officials discovered improprieties in how GUEA had been administered, and the state de-certified the enterprise zone in 2005. Carter’s office pursued the matter and turned its findings over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which sought and won nine convictions against those who were deemed responsible for GUEA’s mismanagement.
Carter’s office, meanwhile, pursued civil resolution to GUEA’s affairs, appointing a board to oversee the liquidation of the non-profit entity’s properties and assets in an attempt to recover a portion of the mismanaged funds. The state ultimately recovered about $700,000, Carter said. The scholarship gift to IU Northwest, he explained, represents an attempt to direct those funds toward the same purpose the enterprise zone was intended to serve: the betterment of the community.
“This is sort of making lemonade out of lemons,” Carter said Friday. “The GUEA process was not a pleasant one. Public confidence was lost. Hopefully, this is a way to restore some of that within the city of Gary, so people can see that public officials are interested in achieving good public policies, and getting great public institutions engaged to ensure that this will happen long into the future.”
IU Northwest Chancellor Bruce Bergland thanked Carter for the generous gift and vowed that this substantial scholarship support would be used to extend educational opportunities to those in Gary who previously may have written off their chances of going to college.
“The mission of IU Northwest calls for us to serve Northwest Indiana, but as everyone here who is associated with us knows, we have a particularly important commitment to serving our home city of Gary,” Bergland said. “In the Emerson neighborhood, we’re going to be able to show students that there now is real hope. Maybe you hadn’t thought much about doing well in school, because you thought there was no place you were going to after this, anyway. But now, we’re going to be able to show people that there is a possibility, there is money, and there is support. Don’t worry that you’re not in the strongest position financially. There is a basis for you to receive support to go to IU Northwest.”
Bergland noted that IU Northwest already has initiatives in place to assist African-American students as they strive to be successful in higher education. He mentioned particularly the Student African-American Brotherhood, a social and academic program that focuses specifically on helping African-American males remain in school and achieve their potential in and out of the classroom. With the generous funding from the Emerson donation, the Chancellor said, IU Northwest is now in a position to influence the lives of many additional students.
“We’re confident that we’re really going to have an impact on Emerson and in Gary,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier.”
In its first year, the endowed fund will provide $35,000 in student scholarships. Carter explained that a local scholarship committee would be established to evaluate scholarship applications in cooperation with IU Northwest. These scholarships will be open to students living in the Emerson area. If not enough students from this area apply for the awards, then the scholarships will be opened up to students from elsewhere in Gary.
“One of our goals throughout this has been to remain focused on the original public policy mission of benefitting the residents of the Emerson neighborhood,” Carter said. “We have looked at ways to leave these funds in such a way that they continue to do that over time. We find Indiana University, with the funds going to the IU Foundation for the benefit of those who attend IU Northwest, to be a very good recipient, someone who administers (millions of dollars in) funds, in a fiduciary capacity.”
Carter, himself a Lake County native from Lowell, admitted that he has past connections to IU, his alma mater, and to IU Northwest, which is his mother’s alma mater. So he was already familiar with IU Northwest’s reputation as an outstanding public institution of higher learning in Northwest Indiana, he said.
But the attorney general, who concludes his tenure in that position this week, said the decision to present these funds as an endowed scholarship for IU Northwest students was also geographic in nature. Had the unfortunate GUEA mess occurred in another enterprise zone, he said, the funds likely would have been invested in whatever community had been adversely affected.
“I thank the citizens of Gary for being patient as we try to work through this in a logical way,” Carter concluded. “Since it’s my last official workday week as the Indiana attorney general, it is a good feeling for me to be involved in an activity that will have a great future.”
After the press conference, IU Northwest officials talked about the importance of the Emerson gift for local students.
“The simple fact that we will be able to give students alternatives other than student loans to help them finance their education is huge,” said IU Northwest Director of Financial Aid Harold Burtley. “Especially for an economic area like Gary, Ind., and in these hard economic times, when students are trying to go to school and figure out how to pay for it. This will be a big help in helping them to make that decision about furthering their education.
“This is a good way to go into the spring term and a good way to go into the new year, knowing that this will be available,” Burtley said.