February 29, 2008
University alumnus Robert McNair to increase scholarship program to $30 million
The University of South Carolina announced Friday (Feb. 29) that alumnus and business leader Robert McNair of Houston will increase the funding for a prestigious scholarship program that bears his name to $30 million.
The announcement is part of the university’s 10th anniversary celebration of the program. In 1998, McNair and his wife, Janice, gave $20 million to establish the McNair Scholars Program, the university’s most prestigious and valuable scholarship program for out-of-state students. The Carolina Scholars Program offers similar benefits for in-state students.
University President Andrew Sorensen said the original gift has raised the university’s academic prestige and visibility throughout the United States.
“The McNair Scholars Program has enabled the university to attract many of the nation’s best and brightest students and has spread the word about the many outstanding academic programs offered at the University of South Carolina,” Sorensen said.
“The increase in funding for the McNair program will ensure its longevity and success as one of the nation’s most attractive and competitive scholarships for academically gifted students,” he said.
The first McNair scholars, nine freshmen in all, arrived at Carolina in the fall of 1998. The full-tuition scholarship program has grown steadily to include 20 freshmen from around the country who receive the award each year. The program boasts 94 alumni and 81 students, including this year’s entering class, which posted an average SAT score of 1487.
McNair, who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the university in 1958, said the additional funding for the scholarship is an investment in people and the future.
“Janice and I have participated in, and established, many different programs,” he said. “We take pride in investing in programs that support intellect, instead of bricks and mortar. That has been the path that we have chosen. We believe that the impact is more long term, and we believe in investing in intellectual capital – scholarships for students and grants for faculty members.”
McNair founded Cogen Technologies, which he sold in 1999, and is the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of the Houston Texans. The McNairs are widely known for their philanthropic efforts on behalf of the greater Houston area and higher education, including a college scholarship program for students from his hometown of Forest City, N.C. The McNair Foundation was honored as the 2003 Outstanding Philanthropic Foundation.
The rewards of philanthropy are many, McNair said.
“Janice and I find it very rewarding to see young people progress and to know that we were able to assist them,” he said. “I would encourage anyone to give serious consideration to sharing what they have with others, and I think that they’ll find that the rewards are very significant.”
Jacque Riley is one of the young people who has benefited from the McNairs’ gift. Riley, who came to the university in 2001 as a McNair scholar from Gainesville, Fla., said she visited the campus, fell in love with the university’s Horseshoe and the university’s public-relations program, “but the McNair scholarship sealed the deal. It was life changing for me.”
Because the scholarship enabled her to leave college without debts, Riley has been able to open her own public-relations firm, Riley Communications, in Columbia, which is home for her and her husband.
“I want to give back to this place that has given so much to me,” she said.
Helping young people fulfill their dreams is at the heart of why McNair founded the scholarship program.
“If you have a passion for something, there’s a good chance you will do well at it,” McNair said. “You’re going to work very hard because you enjoy it and not because you have to. If someone had asked me many years ago, ‘Where do you think you’ll be?’ and suggested I’d have the kind of business career that I’ve had, I would have said that’s the least likely thing that I could ever imagine.”
To learn more about the McNair Scholars Program, visit the Office of Fellowships and Scholar Programs at www.sc.edu/ofsp.
The McNair Scholars Program was established in 1998 with a $20 million gift from University of South Carolina alumnus and Houston business leader Robert McNair and his wife, Janice. The first class of scholars was admitted in fall 1998.
McNair Scholars Program
The university has 81 McNair scholars on campus and 94 alumni.
The scholars have 31 different majors -- Baccalaureaus Artium et Scientiae, biology, business, chemistry, biomedical engineering, chemical engineering, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, exercise science, English, geology, history, international business, international studies, broadcast journalism, print journalism, public relations, marine science, mathematics, media arts, music, pharmacy, philosophy, physics, political science, psychology, religious studies, sociology, sport and entertainment management, and theater.
The McNair scholars represent 18 states. The state with the most number of scholars is Tennessee (13); North Carolina is second (11), and Texas and Virginia tie for third (eight).
At least 14 McNair scholars have stayed in South Carolina for graduate school, and six have remained to live and work in the Palmetto State.
McNair scholars have an impressive record in national fellowship competitions. Scholars have won 31 national awards, including two Truman scholarships, a James Madison fellowship, three Goldwater scholarships, three Fulbright scholarships, one National Science Foundation fellowship, one NOAA Hollings scholarship, three National Security Education Program scholarships, 11 Rotary scholarships, one Department of Homeland Security fellowship, one Rhodes scholarship finalist and one Mitchell scholarship semi-finalist. In 2005-06, 10 McNair scholars won national awards.
Former McNair scholar Lara Bratcher was the recipient of the university Glamour magazine Top Ten College Women Award.
McNair scholars have selected the university over many prestigious universities, including the University of Florida, the University of Denver, Case Western Reserve University, Lafayette College, Miami University of Ohio, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Pittsburgh, Emory University, Duke University, Indiana University, Vanderbilt University, the University of Tennessee, Purdue University, Stanford University, the University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina.
McNair scholars often study abroad. During the spring 2008 semester, 10 McNair scholars are studying abroad in the Czech Republic, Australia, Thailand, Ghana, France, Taiwan, Italy and England.
McNair scholars meet and exceed the rigid requirements to enter the South Carolina Honors College. The Class of 2011 has an average SAT of 1487. All scholars are automatically admitted to the honors college. The Office of Undergraduate Admissions received almost 900 applications for the McNair scholarships that will be awarded for the fall 2008 semester.
McNair scholars have been varsity athletes. Alumni include Grace Blakely (2007), varsity tennis, and Dean Emmerton (2005), swimming and diving. Members of the university’s cross country and track teams -- Jenny Lake (2005) and Karen Wigal (2007) -- were standouts in their sport.
Robert C. McNair is perhaps best known in the business community as the founder of Cogen Technologies, which was sold in 1999. Cogen was the largest privately owned cogeneration company in the world, with aggregate capacity of 1,400 megawatts.
Robert C. McNair
Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
McNair also serves as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The McNair Group, headquartered in Houston, Texas, where he oversees an investment portfolio that includes interests in two cogeneration plants in the eastern United States. Mr. McNair owns Palmetto Partners, Ltd. and RCM Financial Services, L.P., private investment entities that manage the McNairs’ public and private equity investments, and is Chairman of the McNair Foundation and the Houston Texans Foundation.
Committed to bringing a National Football League team to Houston, Mr. McNair formed Houston NFL Holdings in 1998. On October 6, 1999, the NFL announced that the 32nd NFL franchise had been awarded to Mr. McNair, returning football to the City of Houston in the year 2002 and Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004.
On September 8, 2002, the Houston Texans kicked off their inaugural season with a victory over the Dallas Cowboys, 19 to 10, in their nationally televised season opener. The victory over Dallas made Houston the first expansion club to win its opening game since the 1961 Minnesota Vikings. The Texans also won at Jacksonville and upset the Giants and Steelers, both playoff teams.
Despite facing a rash of injuries and the NFL’s toughest schedule in 2003, the Texans posted a 5-11 campaign in their second NFL season. And in 2004, the Texans continued their steady climb by winning seven games. Houston won consecutive games for the first time and earned its first sweeps of divisional opponents by defeating Jacksonville and Tennessee twice. The Texans’ second win over the Jaguars, a 21-0 road triumph, marked Houston’s first shutout win in franchise history.
After the team finished with a disappointing 2-14 record in 2005, Mr. McNair displayed courage and conviction by hiring a rookie head coach and a first-time general manager to build a winning team in Houston. Gary Kubiak, a Houston native, was named the Texans’ second head coach on January 26, 2006, after spending the last 11 seasons as the offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos. On June 5, 2006, Mr. McNair introduced Rick Smith as the franchise’s second general manager. Smith, who followed Kubiak from Denver, where he was the assistant general manager, became the youngest general manager in the NFL at age 36.
Stonerside Stable, a major thoroughbred horse farm in Kentucky, is also among McNair’s successes. A 1,500-acre thoroughbred horse farm and racing stable, Stonerside is home to over 200 racehorses, broodmares, yearlings and weanlings. Since its inception in 1994, Stonerside has won 59 Graded Stakes races including Grade I wins in the Belmont, Breeders Cup Mile, the Travers, the Haskell, the Hollywood Gold Cup, the Cigar Mile, the Carter, the Swaps, the Wood Memorial, the Matriarch and the Oak Leaf Stakes. Stonerside also has finished second and third in the Kentucky Derby and was the co-breeder of Fusaichi Pegasus, winner of the Derby.
Mr. McNair is a current or past member of the Boards of Trustees of a number of institutions, including Rice University, Baylor College of Medicine, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Grand Opera, the Greater Houston Partnership, the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Free Enterprise Institute and the Federal Reserve Banks of Dallas and Houston.
Mr. McNair is a member of the Texas Business Hall of Fame and a recipient of the Anti-Defamation League's Torch of Liberty Award, the Northwood University Outstanding Business Leader Award and the Association for Private Enterprise Education’s Herman W. Lay Memorial Award. In 1999, he received the Distinguished American Award from the Houston Chapter of the National Football Foundation and the Distinguished Citizen Award from the Rotary Club of Houston.
In April 2002, The South Main Center Association presented Mr. McNair with the prestigious City Builder Award. The Houston Advertising Federation honored Mr. McNair in November 2002 with the Annual Trailblazer Award recognizing him for significantly enhancing the overall image of Houston, both locally and globally.
In April 2003, McNair received the Distinguished Citizen Award from the Sam Houston Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and in May 2003, McNair received The Denton A. Cooley Leadership Award from the Texas Heart Institute. In November 2003, the McNairs received the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge National Award for Outstanding Patriotism, Responsible Citizenship and Community Involvement.
The McNair Foundation was honored as the 2003 Outstanding Philanthropic Foundation at the National Philanthropy Day luncheon sponsored by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and in November 2004, the Foundation was honored at the Houston Independent School District Partnership Appreciation Breakfast with a Hall of Fame Award.
In April 2004, McNair was honored with the Heart of Houston award from the Fifth Ward Enrichment Program. In March 2005, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes presented McNair with the President & Mrs. George H. W. Bush Community Impact Award. In June 2005, Rice University announced that the newest building on the campus, the 167,000 square foot home of the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management, had been officially named Janice and Robert McNair Hall by the Rice Board of Trustees. McNair also is a founder of the Cotswold project, a revitalization project focused on downtown Houston.
Born in Tampa, Fla., Mr. McNair has been a resident of Houston since 1960. He graduated from the University of South Carolina in Columbia in 1958 with a Bachelor of Science degree. In 1999, Mr. McNair received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from the University of South Carolina.