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School receives $1 million gift to support students, faculty and innovation

The School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has received a $1 million gift from philanthropists Prudence F. and Peter J. Meehan of Chapel Hill, longtime supporters of the school.

The gift will support student scholarships, assist in the recruitment and retention of promising junior faculty, and fund new innovation initiatives to meet emerging needs in the field.

“Receiving a gift of this size will make a lasting impact on the School of Social Work,” said Jack Richman, dean of the school. “We are honored that the Meehans chose us to benefit from their generosity. This gift is a testament to their ongoing support and commitment to our school and the important work in which our faculty and students are engaged.”

The gift, among the largest in the school’s history, will enable Carolina to further its focus on solving some of the world’s most pressing problems among some of the most forgotten in society, starting in North Carolina.

At least $150,000 of the gift will expand scholarship offerings for master of social work (M.S.W.) students as part of an existing Meehan Scholarship Endowment. The endowment, which the Meehans established in 2005, has provided nearly $51,000 in financial assistance to 20 student scholars over the last decade. The additional funding ensures that the school can continue to assist many students in need with increasing tuition expenses.

“Given that our M.S.W. graduates typically get jobs with starting salaries in the $40,000 to $45,000 range, anything we can do to help ease their debt is meaningful,” Richman said.

Another $500,000 of the gift will endow the Prudence F. and Peter J. Meehan Early Career Professorship to support assistant and associate professors. The school plans to award $12,500 each to two junior faculty members. These early career term professorships, which will enhance salaries and support research and scholarly interests, will be available to recipients annually until they are promoted or for up to five years, whichever comes first.

“These funds are critical, not only for attracting new assistant and associate professors, but for helping us to retain them,” Richman said. “Our junior faculty have an incredible experience here in terms of mentoring, research, teaching and service. These professorships will demonstrate how much we support and care about our faculty. We want to do the best by them and be more competitive in the marketplace of faculty recruitment and retention. Thanks to the Meehans’ generosity, we are in a much better position on both fronts.”

Although the school has flexibility with how the remaining $350,000 will be spent, Richman wants to pursue innovative projects or partnerships that align with the school’s strategic goals. These include advancing its faculty’s expertise in developing practice and policy solutions to today’s most pressing issues, such as substance abuse, eldercare, interpersonal violence, child welfare, mental health care, international social work, and support for military families.

“This funding really strengthens our hand as a school,” Richman said, “and enables us to retain superior faculty, attract the brightest students, and maintain a strong program as we move forward to meet the social and health challenges of the 21st century.”

Prudence and Peter Meehan grew up and attended college in Connecticut. In 1984, they joined with partners to purchase a business in North Carolina and relocated to Chapel Hill. The Meehans support several educational and health and human service endeavors in North Carolina, where they have made significant philanthropic contributions to assist a variety of programs in the Triangle. Their interests span problems and issues in the areas of substance abuse, learning disabilities, at-risk youth, homelessness and mental illness. The Meehans received the Association of Fundraising Professionals Triangle 2010 Excellence in Philanthropy Award and continue to be community leaders and advocates for positive social change.

Although the Chapel Hill residents are not UNC graduates, the Meehans attributed part of their motivation to give to a deep desire to strengthen higher education efforts.

“State colleges and universities are facing more and more budget cuts, making it difficult to support their endeavors,” Prudence Meehan said. But more important, she added, “the gift is an opportunity to honor the School of Social Work’s dean, faculty, staff, students and alumni.”

“We’ve lived in different parts of the country, and we’ve had affiliations with a wide variety of colleges and universities, but there’s just something about the School of Social Work,” said Meehan, a longtime member of the school’s Board of Advisors. “It’s just an exceptional place, and the graduates, by and large, tend to stay in North Carolina. I’ve said it before, but I really like that they go on to share their knowledge and skills with communities across the state, which creates this ripple effect. They truly are problem solvers, and they add to the quality of life in North Carolina.”

The Meehans made their first gift to the School of Social Work in 1987, establishing a loyal and long-lasting relationship.

“Prue and Peter have been strong supporters of the school for such a long time,” Richman said. “They remain very interested in what we teach our students and the impactful research that our faculty conduct. Supporters such as the Meehans are what allow us to continue to be successful. So I am excited and extremely grateful for their generosity.”

By Scott Ragland, UNC Development Office; and Susan White

About the UNC School of Social Work
The UNC School of Social Work is a highly selective and distinguished graduate school offering masters and doctoral programs. The school is one of the nation’s leaders in social work research and education, and is ranked among the top 5 schools of social work in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report. About 70 percent of graduates remain in North Carolina to serve the people of the state.