Roanoke College leaders say historic donation will help school advance as a whole

Roanoke College recently received its biggest alumni cash donation ever.
Roanoke College recently received its biggest alumni cash donation ever.(Will Thomas)
Published: Oct. 31, 2021 at 7:12 PM EDT
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SALEM, Va. (WDBJ) - When Roanoke College leaders heard about an alumnus’s cash donation, it was hard to contain their excitement.

“I literally jumped,” said Roanoke College President Mike Maxey.

The donation came from from Shaun McConnon, who graduated from the school in 1966. McConnon has had a successful career in technology and said his studies at Roanoke College helped get him where he is today.

McConnon graduated with a degree in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. His donation is to help move forward plans for the school’s new Science Center.

“This gives us a chance to address the deficiency that exists right now and to move the whole college forward,” said Maxey.

McConnon is also “challenging” other alumni of the school to show their support, just like he did.

“What Shaun’s legacy will be is not only the ability to support a really important, critical piece of campus infrastructure, but he’s also giving back to our alma mater, engaging with our alumni and having them come together as Maroons and celebrate this gift,” said Vice President for Resource Development Kim Blair.

Every student who attends the college has to take multiple science courses and leaders are hoping to make this building a centerpiece for all who attend the college, no matter their major.

See the full news release below.

“Roanoke College President Michael Maxey, on October 28 announced to the Board of Trustees that the College has received the single largest cash gift in the school’s 179-year history.

Shaun McConnon, a Massachusetts-based cybersecurity expert who founded several high-tech security companies, has donated $15 million for the College’s new Science Center. He is a 1966 graduate of Roanoke College.

“Shaun McConnon’s extraordinary gift represents a new chapter for Roanoke College, and we are grateful,” President Maxey said. “Shaun’s gift will help us realize our goals for the new Science Center, a space that will benefit many generations and our surrounding community. When complete, the Science Center will foster the types of meaningful academic and personal, purposeful connections Roanoke College is known for. This is an exciting time in our College history.”

With his record-breaking gift, McConnon challenges the College to match the donation by the time Maxey retires in August 2022.

“I’m hoping that my donation and my story will help other alumni think about how Roanoke College may have helped and inspired their lives and careers,” McConnon said. “I felt that at this point in my life, after a rewarding career, I would give back to Roanoke College. I am asking all alumni to consider donating to the future of the College, and the new Science Center. It will be rewarding for them, the College and future students who aspire to greater things.”

McConnon majored in biology at Roanoke College, with a minor in chemistry. He credits several Roanoke College professors as being instrumental in his success. “Dr. Karl Beck in psychology was phenomenal and Dr. Harry Poindexter in history,” McConnon said in a 2013 article. In his major and minor programs, he particularly remembers Dr. Harry Holloway Jr. in biology and Dr. Charles Bondurant in chemistry as being challenging academic powerhouses whose instruction helped him throughout his life and career.

McConnon recalls his classes in writing, history and psychology as especially helpful in his life, both in his career and particularly as a writer. He credits Dr. Matthew Wise, an English professor, with teaching him how to write and how to tackle the process. McConnon, also an author, has written several books, including “Supremis,” a science fiction novel. McConnon is currently editing a book he recently wrote about his career in the technology industry.

McConnon began his technology career with Honeywell and went on to Data General and Sun Microsystems. McConnon’s next career phase involved creating, building and then selling high- tech security companies that detect abnormal, suspicious or intrusive activity. He founded four companies: Raptor Systems, Okena, Q1 Labs (acquired by IBM to form security division) and BitSight Technologies.

The new Science Center will impact every student at Roanoke College — those majoring in the sciences and those majoring in other academic fields.

Every student at Roanoke takes at least three courses from the programs that will be housed in the Science Center. One-third of all courses on campus will be taught in the Science Center. Most of the student research will take place there, and it will house three of Roanoke’s 10 most popular majors: psychology, biology and environmental studies.

“Thanks to Shaun’s generosity, we can envision a college with a future cutting-edge science facility that will make our already outstanding institution even greater. With the help of the entire Roanoke College community, I know we can meet Shaun’s challenge this year,” said Kim Blair ‘93, vice president of resource development. “Shaun’s phenomenal gift and challenge to our alumni will help us make this transformational space a reality and benefit generations of future Maroons.”

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