June 16, 2016

Don and Ellie Knauss

In an effort to help relieve the financial stress experienced by many of Texas A&M University’s more than 1,150 veterans, the Veteran Resource and Support Center (VRSC) announced a new scholarship initiative for veterans and their spouses last fall.  

The initiative, which outlines three tiers of veteran scholarship support, seeks to assist veterans, combat veterans and their spouses in achieving their educational goals.

“Most people believe that veterans do not finish their college degrees because of mental stresses placed upon them, but in most cases they drop out because the financial burden becomes too much to handle,” said retired Marine Corps Col. Gen. Jerry Smith ’82 and director of the VRSC. “We are determined to lessen that burden and make Texas A&M even more veteran-friendly through private financial support.”

Answering that call, Don and Ellie Knauss were one of the first couples to endow a Freedom Scholarship, the highest of the three tiers of veteran scholarship support. Established in March through the Texas A&M Foundation, their $200,000 scholarship will be awarded to its first recipient this fall.

Call to Action

While they aren’t Aggies—Don graduated from Indiana University with a bachelor’s degree in history and Ellie from Duke University with an economics degree—the couple was introduced to Texas A&M through their son Jack ’10, a history graduate.

As the retired chairman of The Clorox Company, Don often gave leadership lectures to the Corps of Cadets during campus visits to see his son.

Delta Company

“While speaking to a group of cadets, many of them veterans like myself, something just struck me and Ellie,” said Don, who served in the Marines as an artillery officer before being promoted to captain. “We couldn’t help but think of the hardships they experience in trying to obtain an education and support their families simultaneously.”

These experiences, together with Don’s own military service and the couple’s belief that veterans deserve the best education possible to boost their non-military careers, inspired them to meet with Smith to discuss veteran needs on campus.

“Ironically enough, Jerry and I served in the same unit while in the Marines,” Don said. “I respect him immensely, so when he highlighted the tremendous need for veteran scholarships, we were on board.” 

Though Freedom Scholarships can be endowed with a $100,000 gift, Don and Ellie chose to create a $200,000 endowment to impact more student veterans sooner. Their endowment will provide $4,000 annual stipends to veterans or deserving students who are spouses of veterans pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree.

“The Freedom Scholarship, the first scholarship at Texas A&M that can be awarded to veterans or their spouses, is the gold standard of financial aid for veterans,” Smith said, noting that about 40 percent of Texas A&M student veterans are married, and 25 percent have a spouse taking courses simultaneously. “This scholarship will assist students who have demonstrated exceptional leadership and sacrifice.”

Patriot Scholarships, the second tier of veteran scholarship support, can be funded with a $50,000 endowment and provide recipients annual stipends of $2,000. Honor Scholarships are the third option, which require a $25,000 endowment and provide recipients $1,000 annual stipends. All veteran scholarships are payable over a five-year period.

“Veterans experience enough stress when transitioning from military to civilian life, and scholarships can take some of that burden away,” said Don. “Texas A&M is already a great transition place for veterans to start or finish their education, and private financial support will only enhance that reputation.”

Support Aggie Veterans

Education has been the philanthropic focus of Don and Ellie for years. They have established scholarships at Indiana University, Morehouse College and San Diego State University.

“Our philosophy is, ‘don’t give them a fish, teach them how to fish,’” Ellie said. “Education is the key to a lot of issues that challenge our world today, and we are just doing our part to make sure that education is available and affordable to different groups.”

At Texas A&M, student veteran enrollment increases 25 percent every year. Most student veterans are unable to finish their degree within the 36-month GI Bill limitation, increasing the need for private financial support.

“There is a quote by Jackie Robinson that reads, ‘A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives,’” Don said. “I think that is a good summary of what leadership really is, what Texas A&M teaches their students and how we aim to live our lives.”

Student veterans attending Texas A&M bring notable strengths to the classroom, the community and our country.

Establishing an endowed scholarship for veterans and their spouses will make a lasting impact that will serve all future generations of veterans who want to wear the Aggie Ring.

By Chelsea O’Neal ’17

Texas A&M Foundation
The Texas A&M Foundation is a nonprofit organization that solicits and manages investments in academics and leadership programs to enhance Texas A&M’s capability to be among the best universities.