We tend to think of the word ‘experience’ in terms of time (i.e., do you have enough of it to be knowledgeable?). But ‘experience’ can also mean perspective (i.e., what is the knowledge you gained from yours?). Both are vital to maintaining a successful board with a diversity of backgrounds and views exercised to meet the needs of a dynamic organization.
The Jefferson Trust needs — and has — both, as both are critical to effectively evaluating grant proposals.
The trustees span six decades of UVA alumni, from 1963 to 2019.
The oldest trustee, Lee Forker, completed his MBA from Darden in 1963. A Navy Vietnam Veteran and retired Boston-based professional investor, Forker is also the longest serving trustee, carrying a great deal of organizational memory. He brings broad knowledge of the financial sector and UVA’s philanthropic landscape. He is a principal supporter of the annual Alumni Family Weekend, annually supports the Darden Foundation and created an endowed chair in the College of Arts and Sciences to honor his favorite Darden professor, John D. Forbes.
Forker serves on the Trust’s Grants Committee, reviewing every proposal and taking pages of copious notes on each. He’s a stickler for financial details and the likelihood of success of each application and is laser-focused on making sure each grant has a clear and direct impact on Grounds, saying, “I only approve applications that will benefit some sector of the University.”
He loves the projects and the people, saying that “It keeps me sharp.” He quips, “It’s the surest way to stave off Alzheimer’s.” “And I love the wisdom of older people and the energy of young people.”
One of those young people is George Brown, a 2019 graduate of the College. Brown is just starting his career, working with the action and adventure sports media company Teton Gravity Research. He is well aware of the value a broad age range plays in a grant-making body. He says, “While the younger generation may have a pulse on current students, we are all tied to the University through its traditions, which are often carried by the older generation.”
“[The trustees’] range of perspectives are tied to the same goal,” he says. That goal is advancing UVA, and Brown wants to work on that goal for the rest of his life. “For me, the Trust is the first step in a lifetime of service to the University.”
The exact midpoint between George’s 2019 graduation year and Lee’s in 1963 is 1991, which is the year that husband and wife trustee pair Jenn and Scott Gwilliam both graduated. Jenn and Scott are also parents to two current students, which gives them a unique perspective in reviewing grant applications. “We watch people present [their proposals] and see the impact through our kids’ eyes,” says Scott. “One of my daughter’s favorite professors is a grantee, and I was able see the grant in action in her class.”
Scott Gwilliam is a regular mentor to grantees as well. Most recently, he’s worked to help 2020 grantees Gaurav Giri, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering, and Bala Mulloth, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, in scaling their mask-filtering technology to help stop the spread of viruses such as COVID-19 and protect people in areas with bad air pollution. “It has enormous potential, and I hope I can help,” he says.
For Jen and Scott Gwilliam, this experience and these relationships — including those with fellow trustees — are what makes the Trust so special. Scott says, “There’s energy and enthusiasm from younger trustees, expertise and knowledge from people in the middle, and wisdom and warmth from the older trustees. It’s one of the most dynamic, interesting and fun ways to give back.”