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Million-dollar grant creates Harlan and Dian Stai Honors Scholars program at SDSU

Dian and Harlan Stai
Dian and Harlan '69 Stai.

A multiyear grant from the Dian Graves Owen Foundation of Abilene, Texas, to South Dakota State University will provide funds to create four-year scholarships to select high-achieving students from South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa who are accepted into the Van D. and Barbara B. Fishback Honors College.

“We are exceptionally grateful to the Dian Graves Owen Foundation and Harlan and Dian Stai for their gift of $1 million to invest in high-achieving students and especially students with Pell Grant eligibility who plan to pursue Fishback Honors College distinction from South Dakota State University,” said Dean Rebecca Bott Knutson. “This gift will allow us to recruit and provide transformational support to top students who are selected to attend SDSU from Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota.”

Applicants will be assessed between two categories of students: Stai Honors Scholars (high academic achievers) and Stai Honors Access Scholars (high academic achievement with Pell Grant eligibility). All recipients will be selected through competitive interviews with campus professionals, reviews of high school academic and extracurricular activities, community service and recommendations regarding their leadership potential.

Due to extenuating circumstances, the 2020-21 selection process will observe social distancing rules and will be accelerated via an online application. Interested parties should refer to SDSU’s Office of Admissions.

Harlan ’69 and Dian Stai have previously supported learning environments with a Community Pharmacy Practice Laboratory in the College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions and the choir rehearsal room in the School of Performing Arts. Harlan’s experience as an undergraduate student in pharmacy was marked by significant enjoyment of performing in The Statesmen, SDSU’s men’s vocal ensemble.

The Stais’ most recent gift was made to assist SDSU in addressing the importance of recruiting high-achieving students from Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota and to offer competitive scholarship packages while prioritizing students with significant financial need. Additionally, the grant includes $125,000 to be given over four years to support and enhance the excellence of the choral music ensembles in the School of Performing Arts.

In addition to the financial support for students, the gift is a significant step toward helping meet the Fishback Honors College Challenge, which was issued by the college’s namesakes, Van and Barbara Fishback. The Fishbacks’ gift will create a $3.5 million endowment. Gifts made to support the strategic priorities of the Fishback Honors College by other donors will be matched by the Fishbacks on a one-to-one basis, up to $3.5 million, making the challenge match the single-largest ever issued at SDSU. When achieved, the Van D. and Barbara B. Fishback Honors College will have $7 million in new support.