Jane Grossman Cecil ’50 was a tireless advocate for education. A history major at Smith, she became a leading philanthropist, particularly interested, she once said, in “programs that create action and solve society’s challenges related to education.”
With her husband, Don, a retired investment company executive, Cecil spent decades working to expand educational and cultural opportunities for young people. At Smith, they supported Project Coach, a program that they valued for its direct impact in Springfield, Mass. The Cecils were also active on boards and with scholarships in their hometown of Westchester, N.Y. Married for 62 years, the Cecils established the Jandon Scholars Program, which in 16 years already has helped more than 200 students from Westchester County achieve their college dreams.
When Jane Grossman Cecil died last summer following a short illness, her husband decided to honor her memory with a $3.5-million gift to Smith’s Center for Community Collaborations. Don Cecil said education was a central part of the couple’s life together. “I went to college on the GI Bill, and education was one of the most important aspects of our lives together,” noted the longtime philanthropist. “We like to provide opportunities for young people so they can move ahead and gain self-confidence. The more education you have, the better your life will be.”
The Cecils’ gift to Smith will enable transformation not just for hundreds of Smith students each year, but for hundreds of younger students in surrounding areas as well. The gift, which has been combined with other college funds, will help endow Smith’s newly named Jandon Center for Community Engagement, establishing permanent support for core staff, as well as enhanced support for the college’s far-reaching Urban Education Initiative. The gift will also support a new lecture series, as well as community- and course-based learning experiences for up to 150 Smithies each year.
“Don and Jane Grossman Cecil care deeply about the positive impact that teachers can have on young lives,” said trustee Alison Overseth ’80, executive director of the Partnership for After School Education in New York. “This gift will transform the lives of young people in the immediate community—and throughout the country, and indeed the world—by allowing more Smith students to become involved with urban education, both during their years at Smith and after graduation. We’ve seen firsthand the value of student involvement in urban education, and I am thrilled at the opportunities that the Cecils’ gift provides to benefit Smith students and young children.”
“Jandon” is a combination of the Cecils’ names—reflecting Don and Jane Grossman Cecil’s commitment to transforming lives through education. The center’s new director, Denys Candy, says the gift will allow the Jandon Center to broaden its impact on and off campus. “This gift puts the center’s work on very firm footing, both in urban education and science and technology outreach,” Candy says.” Through this gift, the community of North Springfield can confidently rely on Smith as a core partner in vital work nurturing young leaders.”
Candy—who comes to Smith with three decades of experience working with community stakeholders in the United States and abroad (particularly in Pittsburgh and Europe, including in his native Ireland)—will work alongside psychology professor Phil Peake, the faculty co-director of the Jandon Center, to lead a robust schedule of programs and activities.
What’s planned? First and foremost, the Jandon Center will foster opportunities for Smith students to engage with community partners in practical challenges facing schools and communities. This real-life experience builds on the students’ academic work and prepares them to be active citizens after Smith. Science and technology outreach programs will continue to help several hundred Smithies develop mastery in their disciplines, while benefiting more than 2,000 K-12 students in local schools. Programs supported by the gift will complement the center’s Community Service Office, through which more than 300 students volunteer in 30 partner organizations in local communities.
Central to that effort is the highly successful Urban Education Initiative (UEI) led by Sam Intrator, professor of education and child studies at Smith and a co-founder of the UEI. Intrator notes that UEI activities, including the January Fellowship Program and Project Coach, have a strong track record of helping Smithies launch careers in urban schools, and he praised the Cecils’ long commitment to changing the world through education.
“Jane Cecil wholeheartedly believed in the transformative power of smart, energized and talented teachers,” Intrator said, “and the Cecils’ decade of support for Smith’s Urban Education Initiative brought this belief to life. The Cecils’ passionate commitment to transforming lives through education was a real inspiration to me and Project Coach co-founder Prof. Don Siegel, as well as to dozens of Smithies and to the inner-city teens we work with.”
In addition to co-curricular experiences, the Jandon Center provides support for a number of community-based experiential learning courses each year. In its pilot phase, the center involved students from a range of disciplines, including not only education, but also environmental studies and global engagement seminars.
With support from the Cecils’ gift, Candy will organize the Jane Grossman Cecil ’50 Annual Lecture in Urban Education, which will bring leading thinkers to campus.
Donna Lisker, dean of the college and vice president for campus life, said the Cecils’ gift is a generous tribute to an alumna who already has made a difference in the lives of countless young people. “With this support,” Lisker noted, “the Jandon Center for Community Engagement has the resources to become a beacon on the Smith campus, preparing our graduates to become ‘women for the world,’ just as Jane Grossman Cecil ’50 was.”
For more information and to make a gift in support of Smith’s urban education initiatives within the Jandon Center for Community Engagement, please contact Betsy Carpenter ’92, director of development.