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Thanks to a $500,000 donation from Paul and Deborah Chellgren and family, Eastern Kentucky University is now better able to wrap its “arms” around first-generation and minority students and help them reach their educational and career goals.

The Chellgrens’ generous gift will endow the Chellgren Success Series, a blend of seminars, symposiums, group training sessions and classes, and the operating budget for the University’s Student Success Center, housed in a repurposed space on the lower level of the John Grant Crabbe Main Library.

The Center “is designed as a one-stop shop for students to access important programs and services for their success at EKU,” said Dr. Eugene Palka, associate vice president for student success. “It’s a provider of academic support services, but it’s also a referral agency, connecting students to resources to meet their academic, personal and professional goals. It’s open to all students, but reaches out especially to first-generation students and under-represented minority populations as part of an effort to improve retention and graduation rates.”

Mr. Chellgren, a member of the EKU Foundation Board, is the former chair and CEO of Ashland Inc. and currently an operating partner of Snow Phipps LLC, a New York City-based private equity investment firm, and chair of the Cascade Environmental Services LLC. Throughout his career, he has been a passionate advocate for education at all levels throughout the Commonwealth.

“Paul has long been a leader on the EKU Foundation Board in many ways,” said Nick Perlick, vice president for development and alumni relations at EKU. “He and Debbie have a great history of philanthropy within the Commonwealth and beyond. As the Student Success Center was being conceived, the Chellgrens quickly identified it as a project that matched their desire to help students in direct, tangible ways. Their generous gift will transform the programming that we are able to deliver through the Center.”

The Chellgren Success Series will include several events each month. The titles so far include: College Reading Strategies, Test-Taking 101, Stress Management, Communication and Networking, Eating the Elephant: What to Do When You Feel Overwhelmed, and Grammar Matters. In addition, the Center offers general advising, tutoring, coaching, homework help and a study hall.

“Giving back to higher education in the state of Kentucky has always been important to us,” Mr. Chellgren said. “We’ve always respected the role that Eastern has played – as a place of opportunity and as a place that understands its mission to serve its geographic region and broad constituency. What’s most important to us are programs that affect students. This is where the ‘rubber hits the road,’ where lives are changed.

“We’re pleased and honored to be able to endow this center, and we look forward to continuing to contribute to Eastern as the years go forward.”  

Palka called the Center’s approach “intentionally intrusive from day one. We’ve got our arms around and are closely following the progress of our first-generation and minority students (populations that often overlap). We’re actually going after them to inspire them to come to the Center, so we can assess what they really need and connect them with resources we already have in place. This is about being pro-active with our students and setting them up for success.”

Eastern continues to attract many first-generation students. In fact, last fall’s incoming freshman class included more than 800 first-generation students, or 29 percent. Palka hopes the new Center can help close the gap between retention and graduation rates for first-generation and minority students and the rates for the remainder of the student body.

Earlier this academic year, the University established a Trailblazer Scholarship to assist first-generation students and a New Horizons scholarship to help minority students.

“When students place their trust in Eastern Kentucky University, they can be assured that we will do all we can to support their holistic growth, in the classroom and in life itself,” said EKU President Michael Benson. “The establishment of our Student Success Center is just the newest example of that unwavering commitment. Now, thanks to the generosity of the Chellgrens, more students will achieve their educational dreams and go on to lead productive and rewarding lives.”   

The Center is focused primarily on freshmen, Palka said, adding that “many will see the utility and come back” in later years.

Center staff includes Lara Vance, a learning specialist serving as director; Lucais Wallen, a drop-in general adviser; Antoinette Davis, a mathematics instructor; John Revere, a life skills coach; a graduate assistant; and a team of seven EKU Gurus, a select group of students who are part tutor, part resident adviser, part concierge.

Paul Chellgren retired from Ashland in 2002 after 28 years of progressively responsible positions. During his tenure, he helped guide the company through a period of rapid change and growth. Ashland evolved into a worldwide, multi-industry company with annual sales and operating revenues exceeding $15 billion, ranking among the nation’s top 200 companies.

He has served on numerous boards in the fields of higher education, business, industry and the arts. A member of the EKU Foundation Board since 2004, he played a key role in the University’s first comprehensive capital campaign.

Mr. Chellgren received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from EKU in December 2005, when he also addressed the fall graduating class. Paul and Deborah Chellgren are residents of Villa Hills, Kentucky, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

For more information about EKU’s Student Success Center, visit