Beth and Mike Kenny Are Bridging Generations by Investing in Students

When Beth Kenny enrolled at Georgia State University just after turning 40, she wanted to finish her undergraduate degree to benefit herself and her closest family members. To her high school daughter, Kenny wanted to demonstrate that pursuing higher education was valuable at any age. To learn to help care for her parents, Kenny majored in psychology with a certificate in gerontology.

Learning about aging would change how she looked at people of all ages. “Gerontology was for Beth Kenny, as for many others, a calling – something beyond her own personal burden,” recalled Frank Whittington, who helped establish GSU’s Gerontology Institute. “It helped show her that … offering hope and care to others could infuse one’s own life with meaning.”

Among her fellow students at GSU, Kenny found diverse motivations and backgrounds. She was particularly impressed how so many juggled jobs, children and classes. Many were first in their families to attend college. Her mindset of helping began to stretch to her classmates’ pursuit of education. What could she do? That question would linger well after her emotional graduation in 1999, attended by three generations of her family.

“Her parents were able to see her graduate summa cum laude,” recalled her husband, Mike Kenny, an attorney in Atlanta. “Her mother suffered from Alzheimer’s, but she was there at graduation, and it was very emotional for Beth’s father. Georgia State helped Beth close something that was unfulfilled and that spurred her to continue to learn and be more involved in the community, especially the mission of Georgia State.

To help address the greatest financial need of current students, the Kennys made a $500,000 gift for unrestricted, university-wide scholarships. This gift follows two others – the Harold V and Anna Marie Little Scholarship in Gerontology established in 2003 and the Elizabeth A. Kenny Scholarship in Psychology set up in 2008. The new Kenny funding will allow students who are most in need to continue making progress toward completing a GSU degree.

“I only hope that some day I am in a position where I am able to provide funding to the GSU university-wide scholarships and make a difference in a student’s life in the same way they have made a difference in mine,” said Caitlin Myers, one of the first Kenny Scholars, who expects to graduate in 2014 with a degree in social work. “I would like to make a difference in my community and would be satisfied with any career where I am able to make a positive impact in somebody’s life.”

Finances – not grades or any academic issues – are what most determines whether a GSU student remains enrolled and on track. Their stories today echo those that Kenny saw unfold among her classmates. “I marveled at their stories because they were so committed to getting their degrees,” she said. “Funding a scholarship had always been in the back of my mind, and now I’m in the position where I can give back.”

By: Michelle Hiskey