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$5 Million Gift Supports Student Veteran Resources At Texas A&M

The center has been renamed in honor of the gift by Ellie and Don Knauss.
By Torie Noellsch, Texas A&M Foundation May 19, 2020

Ellie and Don Knauss of Sugar Land, Texas, have committed a $5 million gift to the Texas A&M Foundation to support Texas A&M University’s Veteran Resource & Support Center (VRSC). The center will be renamed the Don and Ellie Knauss Veteran Resource & Support Center.

a photo of Don and Ellie Knauss
Don and Ellie Knauss

Texas A&M Foundation

The VRSC, which is part of the Division of Student Affairs, provides resources for nearly 1,300 Texas A&M student veterans and their family members. Since opening in 2012, veteran enrollment has more than doubled in size. The center’s 26 strategic programs —  ranging from academic support and financial assistance to veteran networking and beyond — proactively support student veterans from “application to vocation” by focusing on academic, financial and personal well-being as well as career success.

Col. Jerry Smith, director of the VRSC, said the center’s tremendous expansion has caused growing pains that the Knausses’ gift will alleviate.

“We’ve been understaffed the past seven years due to space constraints, which prevented us from growing programs and starting new initiatives,” Smith said. “With this gift, I have a simple answer when people ask me what the VRSC will look like in 2030: There won’t just be hundreds of success stories like we’re currently witnessing — there will be thousands. Don and Ellie are helping to write these stories. They are literally changing lives for those who have served our great country.”

The $5 million gift will support four areas within the VRSC: $2.5 million is dedicated to renovations in the Memorial Student Center where the new center will permanently reside; $1 million will be retained as a facility endowment for maintenance; $1 million will be directed to an excellence fund to be used at the discretion of VRSC leadership to provide funding for on-campus veteran programs; and $500,000 will be used as matching funds to encourage the creation of new veteran scholarships.

The Knausses, the VRSC’s leading scholarship donors, had already given more than $2 million toward 28 endowed student veteran scholarships. With their latest commitment, they said they saw a unique opportunity to help the greater good.

“This gift will allow Texas A&M to create capabilities and resources to further support student veterans,” Don Knauss said. “We are especially excited about the matching component of this gift and its potential to inspire others to endow more scholarships.”

Ellie Knauss added that she and Don have full confidence in the VRSC’s staff to make the most of their gift.

“All of this comes down to people,” she said. “When you meet someone like Jerry and his team, who have such a passion to make a difference, you understand why people want to give. It’s a personal belief that your support is going to make a difference. We can’t say enough about the people at Texas A&M and their dedication. There’s no doubt in our minds that veterans and their families are going to be given as much of a step up as possible during their studies at Texas A&M University in return for everything they’ve given to us.”

The Knausses’ initial connection to Aggieland is their eldest son and his wife, who both graduated from Texas A&M in 2010. However, they said, it is their belief in the power of education, paired with Don’s former military career in the U.S. Marines as an artillery officer, where he earned the rank of captain, that make their relationship with Texas A&M and the VRSC a natural fit.

“Being former military, I felt strongly connected to Texas A&M after I witnessed the tremendous support the university is giving to veterans,” Don Knauss said.

Daniel Pugh, Texas A&M vice president for student affairs, elaborated on the university’s military history.

“Many people forget that ‘military science’ was one of three academic disciplines emphasized in the 1862 Morrill Land-Grant Act,” Pugh said. “We have a vibrant Corps of Cadets program and are one of only six service educational institutions that still exist in the U.S. outside of military schools. Texas A&M produces more service members than any other non-military institution, with 40 percent of cadets serving in the military. It’s part of our Aggie DNA to do all we can to support our nation’s veterans. We need to remember where we started.”

Pugh expressed high hopes for the Knausses’ gift to further drive Texas A&M’s recognition as a leading university for student veterans and their families.

“With their gift, Ellie and Don are providing a world-class home in the Memorial Student Center that will be rivaled by no other,” Pugh said.

Don Knauss echoed Pugh’s thoughts.

“Our vision is for Texas A&M’s VRSC to become a beacon for other universities to consider similar programs, extending this support to veterans and their families across the country,” he said.

Don and Ellie Knauss Veteran Resource & Support Center

The Don and Ellie Knauss Veteran Resource & Support Center identifies, develops and provides uniquely tailored services that enhance academic success and holistic development of veterans and military-affiliated students (active duty, reserve, National Guard, military families and survivors). To learn more, including how you can support Texas A&M’s student veterans, visit  aggieveterans.tamu.edu.

Texas A&M Foundation

The Texas A&M Foundation is a nonprofit organization that aspires to be among the most trusted philanthropies in higher education. It builds a brighter future for Texas A&M University, one relationship at a time. To learn more, visit txamfoundation.com.

Lead by Example Campaign

Publicly launched in 2015, Texas A&M University’s third comprehensive fundraising campaign, Lead by Example, is a joint effort between Texas A&M and its affiliate fundraising organizations: the Texas A&M Foundation, The Association of Former Students, the 12th Man Foundation and the George and Barbara Bush Foundation. With a goal of reaching $4 billion by 2020, it is the largest higher education campaign in Texas history and one of the largest conducted nationally by a public university. For more information, visit leadbyexample.tamu.edu.

Media contact: Dunae Reader, 979-845-7461, dreader@txamfoundation.com

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