Members of the first graduating class of Scott Scholars in May 2021.
The true impact of Walter Scott, Jr.’s legacy may best be told through the eyes of students whose lives have been transformed by his support. A generous benefactor to students since the early 1980s, Scott’s own words sum up his motivations: “Helping young people with their education is one of the finest investments we can possibly make as a society.”
Over three decades, the 1953 civil engineering alumnus put those words into action. His gifts have impacted hundreds of CSU students. Those impacts were not only financial; Scott was well known for his genuine interest in each student’s success, meeting them often at on- and off-campus events, getting to know them, and offering personal words of encouragement.
For those lives he touched, he will never be forgotten.
Mike Peper, a software engineer in Longmont who received one of Scott’s first scholarships in 1983, remembers vividly the day he found out he’d received the scholarship – opening the door to a college education.
“I lived in the country near Longmont, we got our mail at the post office in a post office box, and by luck I was the one who got the mail that day,” Peper wrote in an email. “I read the letter a few times, because in a very real way, that letter told me that my dream had come true.”
With the terms of the scholarship Scott had funded, Peper had enough money to pay for his CSU education without his parents’ help. “Everything I had worked so hard to achieve, grades and jobs, applications and accomplishments, came true with that one letter,” Peper wrote. “I can see that parking lot right now in my mind’s eye as I think back; I will forever see it, and forever be grateful to Mr. Scott.” What’s more, as Peper navigated his CSU engineering studies, eventually graduating in 1988 with degrees in electrical engineering and computer science, he found out he’d need an extra year of school. Scott agreed to extend the scholarship into Peper’s fifth year, allowing him to graduate with both majors.
Building on a legacy of student support
Scott’s longtime generosity toward students like Peper has allowed the Walter Scott, Jr. Scholarship fund to increase over time, positioning CSU to attract and retain the best undergraduate and graduate students across the state and beyond.
For many of those students, that financial support opened doors that would otherwise be closed. Scholarship recipient and Greeley native Victoria Palmer graduated in May 2019 with a degree in mechanical engineering. Palmer had the opportunity to meet Scott during one of his visits to campus, and she happened to be seated at his lunch table.
At the time, Palmer was a sophomore and in the middle of a challenging semester. “I had actually been struggling to figure out if I should be an engineer,” she said. Over lunch, Scott shared about his commitment to the Boys and Girls Club; Palmer in turn shared that she had helped implement outreach events at a local Boys and Girls Club, which delighted Scott. Recalled Palmer: “He shook my hand and told me, ‘Keep up the hard work. You are going to do great things.'”
That encouragement, Palmer said, “helped me get through that year, and helped reaffirm that if someone who has been so successful believed in my capabilities and potential, then I did belong in engineering.” Sticking with the challenging major, two years later Palmer and other Scott Scholars had the opportunity to visit with Scott in his home city of Omaha. There, she was able to thank him in person for the words of encouragement that had meant so much.
Palmer, who graduated with minors in business administration and interdisciplinary leadership studies, went on to become a hardware engineer at Lockheed Martin in Boulder.
“My motivation and inspiration is rooted in the gratitude I have for Walter Scott, Jr., who made my time at CSU possible,” she said.
Scott’s impacts on CSU are immeasurable, and his legacy will be seen and felt for years to come, said college dean David McLean.
“Thanks to Walter Scott, the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering has the tools needed to recruit quality students and outstanding faculty, and to develop strong engineers who are not only skilled technically, but also ready to guide teams and companies as they address some of the world’s most daunting issues,” McLean said. “Our college was forever transformed by Mr. Scott’s vision and generosity. We cannot say thank you enough.”
President Joyce McConnell shares McLean’s deep sense of gratitude, and added that “when generosity comes, like Walter’s did, on a large scale, it is easy to talk about institutional impact and visionary change. Walter did effect those things, at CSU and for our students. But as their stories remind us, he was just as interested in the individual lives he touched and in the young people in whom he saw so much promise. In that, Walter was a standard-bearer for the kind of philanthropy we seek at CSU, both transformative and deeply humane.”