A Boston businessman with no family or alumni ties to the University of Virginia has given $22 million to its education school, believed to be the second largest gift to a U.S. college's teacher-training program.
The donation from Daniel Meyers, 41, who co-founded a company that provides marketing and other services to private educational loan providers, will help fund a new building for the university's growing Curry School of Education, currently housed at several sites on the Charlottesville campus.
But while many big donors are rewarded with their name over the door, Meyers has asked that the new building instead be named for a longtime teacher and close family friend -- the late Anthony D. "Wally" Bavaro, a former college football star who went to work in Boston area public schools after his National Football League career was ended by an injury. Bavaro died of cancer two years ago at age 64.
Bavaro "could have gone into the corporate world, but he spent 40 years in the inner city," Meyers said. "Every time they tried to promote him, he wouldn't leave his classroom."
He added, "You don't name a building after a banker, you name it after the most knowledgeable educator that you ever came across."
Big-dollar philanthropy has swelled the coffers of universities, public and private, over the past decade. Yet relatively few of the big gifts have gone to education schools, which have often struggled for resources.
"By and large, we don't have alums that make huge fortunes," noted David W. Breneman, dean of the Curry School.
Meyers, a graduate of Brandeis University who began his career as a capital markets trader, became involved with the Curry School through Breneman, whom he met in the early 1990s when the dean was a visiting professor at Harvard University. Meyers approached Breneman, an expert in higher education economics, for advice about using the securities market to finance student loans as he developed his business, First Marblehead Corp.
Breneman joined the University of Virginia in 1995 and later tapped Meyers to serve on the Curry School's fundraising foundation, of which he is now vice chairman.
"I think it's a very special place," Meyers said. "Their focus on children at risk, either because of their educational circumstances or family circumstances, fits very much into what I'm interested in."
Breneman said the Curry School, which will celebrate its centennial next year, has outgrown its longtime home in Ruffner Hall and has spread out over the campus. The new building, he said, will allow the school to again consolidate in one space. Architectural plans are in the works but a construction schedule has not been set, officials said.
Primarily known as a graduate school, the Curry School awards about 800 to 900 master's and doctoral degrees every year, as well as about 120 degrees to undergraduates who receive their teaching credentials along with their bachelor's degrees in a five-year program.