Historic Match: Faculty Couple, Microsoft Create Fellowship

How did history professors Richard Johnson and Carol Thomas create a $100,000 endowed fellowship to support graduate students in their department? With a lot of help from Microsoft, plus some from colleagues and friends.

Johnson and Thomas (who are married) have been UW faculty members since 1972 and 1964, respectively. They know well the challenges of recruiting the best graduate students when other schools-both public and private-offer generous fellowships that aren't available at the UW. As chairman of the history department (1992-1997), Johnson spent considerable time trying to build financial support for graduate students. "The department needs private funds to compete," he says, "and I knew that you can go out and look for gifts or you can go inward and look." That "inward" look resulted in the new Johnson-Thomas Endowed Fellowship in History. It is particularly aimed at helping students who are researching or writing their doctoral dissertations.

In 1995, Johnson and Thomas began donating Microsoft stock each year toward a permanently endowed fellowship. Their contributions were matched by the UW through a program that encourages faculty to make gifts to support graduate or professional students. In 1996, Microsoft began providing the UW with those matching funds, committing $1 million over five years for the Microsoft Challenge 2000.

"We were fortunate in many ways," says Johnson. "It's so advantageous to give appreciated stock. You don't have to pay the capital gains tax, and the rising stock market plus the matching funds let us accomplish a large gift relatively easily." Colleagues and friends of the history department made their own contributions to the fellowship when Johnson concluded his term as department chair.

Why does it matter so much that the UW recruit first-rate graduate students? "It's invigorating to have smart, interesting, creative students here," says Thomas. "A university is a community of people who teach, learn, discover and think together. Really good graduate students enliven classrooms and seminars, they inspire faculty with their ideas, their enthusiasm affects undergraduates and each other. They really have a wonderful multiplier effect."

"They also become the next generation of scholars," adds Johnson, proudly pointing out that almost three-quarters of UW history graduate students who completed Ph.D's in recent years have found teaching positions.

Since 1992, when the faculty matching program began, UW faculty have donated more than $1.5 milion to help graduate and professional students.

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