LYNDON CENTER — Northern Vermont University (NVU) announced the largest gift in the Vermont State College System’s (VSCS) history during a live-streamed meeting Monday afternoon: $3.5 million was pledged by Mark and Molly Valade.

Mark Valade is the CEO of Carhartt, Inc., and is a 1978 alumnus of Lyndon State College. He is the great-grandson of the founder of Carhartt, Hamilton Carhartt.

The gift from the Valades is linked directly to plans to create what is called the NVU Learning and Working Community.

The university’s announcement explains “The gift will help build the NVU Learning and Working Community - a partnership between NVU and local businesses and organizations throughout northern Vermont to formalize career pathways and provide hands-on learning opportunities for students. These partnerships will encourage students to stay and work in Vermont by providing advantages in professional networking and opportunities for future employment, helping to solve the acute Vermont workforce shortage.”

NVU President Elaine Collins called the gift “transformative.”

“…This gift… will help drive entrepreneurship, innovation and professional development, encouraging our students to stay in Vermont to pursue their dreams while also helping to meet our state’s workforce needs,” said Collins.

The school said the gift will allow it to “align academic degree and certificate programs to provide pathways for lifelong learning, enabling on and off ramps that include certification and associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees as well as mid-career skills certificates as students pursue their interests, careers, and education.”

“Molly and I are grateful to be in the position to help fund the NVU Learning and Working Community,” shared Valade. “We hope other alumni and friends will join us in supporting this new, innovative direction in teaching NVU has undertaken. The education I received at Lyndon was instrumental in my first partnership: the Darion Inn Restaurant in East Burke. It was there that I was first introduced to the business community in the Northeast Kingdom and all that it had to offer. NVU plays such an important role in the lives of its students and is vital to northern Vermont.”

The gift will be fulfilled over three years, the school said.

“The gift will establish the High-Impact Endowment Fund-Lyndon and contribute to the already established High-Impact Endowment Fund-Johnson to create an annual resource in support for transformative academic initiatives, including paid student internships,” the announcement explains. “NVU will use the gift for curriculum development of stackable credits and workforce development along with career preparation and aligning curriculum and partnership development in support of internship and on-campus work opportunities in the Learning and Working Community.”

The historic gift was announced via virtual meeting, which was scheduled on Friday indicating a gift of historic magnitude would be unveiled Monday afternoon.

At the outset of the Zoom meeting, NVU spokeswoman Sylvia Plumb said, “We at Northern Vermont University have some wonderful news to share.”

President Collins struck an optimistic tone that the Valade gift would prompt others to support the school… ” if we can get more interest and participation and excitement going, then our future is guaranteed,” she said.

That partnership with area businesses will forge partnerships that will help meet the state’s workforce needs and help to keep more young people in Vermont, stressed Collins during the meeting.

Collins said Valade is “so committed to his roots, to his community and to fostering education … he truly cares about this access and making education available … his love for this community has always shown through.”

“In our conversation, Mark shared his hope that this gift will inspire others to follow in his footsteps and give what they can to support NVU,” said Collins.

Vermont State Colleges System Chancellor Sophie Zdatny said during the virtual meeting that the gift is the largest gift ever given to the VSCS.

“Students will be able to earn while they learn, thereby reducing the cost of a college degree,” she said, noting the partnership which the gift will support.

VSC trustee and Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital President and CEO Shawn Tester noted that Valade understands the critical role of the higher education institution for the Northeast Kingdom. He said one of the major challenges facing the hospital and the entire region is workforce needs and the university is a pipeline of qualified staff.

There are more than 100 VSC graduates on staff at the hospital, said Tester, saying the local health care system is dependent upon the state college system for its employees.

“NVU is woven into the very fabric of northern Vermont,” said Tester. “On behalf of our community thank you Mark and Molly for your support of Northern Vermont University.”

The fourth person to speak during the Zoom meeting was student Monique Brochu, who said she chose NVU because of its close-knit, supportive faculty and environment. She thanked the V family for their generous gift, saying “It will impact education for students for generations to come.”

Questions from the press included a question about how the gift may help to relieve the fiscal pressure on NVU.

Collins said the funds will help to market the university and its commitment to the workforce partnership program.

She said drawing in more students will help to relieve the pressure on tuition costs, so boosting enrollment will be a positive step made possible through the generous gift.

Collins said the gift will be used for academic internships, as well as for curriculum development in credit and non-credit bearing certificate programs for needed fields in the region. “We are looking for an opportunity for students to experience career-based curriculum,” she said.

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