This month, Odessa College received its largest donation ever, from one of the richest women in the world. MacKenzie Scott, an award-winning novelist, philanthropist and ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, donated $7 million to the West Texas community college, with no strings attached.
Odessa College President Gregory Williams says the college will use the money in a way that honors the intentions of Scott and her husband, Dan Jewett.
“They think about equity and they’re talking about how to help change the world. And they want to invest these dollars to do really, really positive things. So we’re going to spend the dollars in that spirit,” Williams said.
Williams almost ignored the email announcing the donation because he suspected it was spam. He delayed responding for a few days to work with IT to make sure the email wasn’t fraudulent.
“If I had known it was $7 million dollars on the line, I would have responded in about 30 seconds!” he said.
Odessa College is known for its nursing program. Williams says graduates often go on to pursue careers in health sciences. But students also go there for a “comprehensive” education, he says, either to pursue an associate’s or baccalaureate degree, or to eventually transfer to a four-year college.
The school was a finalist for the 2021 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, and is recognized by the federal government as an Hispanic Serving Institution, which means at least 25% of its full-time student body identifies as Hispanic.
The college hasn’t yet determined how exactly it will spend Scott’s donation, though Williams says he hopes to offer more support to “second-” or “third-chance” students who often aren’t eligible for scholarships.
“Usually when a donor makes a donation, they’re donating for a person who’s made all A’s for all of his or her life,” he said. “But this allows us to create and enhance a scholarship that we’ve been working on that will help those people who stumble, help those people who need a third or second chance, help those individuals who need a restart in life.”
Williams says the money frees the college to tackle “heavier lift” goals that may not have been achievable otherwise.