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“When we started this program, we did it because we felt a responsibility to balance what we received from our business success with an obligation to give back, or at least that’s what we thought at the time,” says Jim Armstrong, founder and chairman of JDA Software Group and managing partner of Canal Partners. “We quickly realized that our investment and personal involvement with our scholarship students gave us tremendous satisfaction. The program is one in which everyone wins – the students and us.”
The Armstrongs took their investment in ASU students to the next level in 2007 with a $4 million commitment to endow their scholarship program. This ensures that it will live on in perpetuity and create positive change for many more deserving students, specifically those with no family support of their own.
In order to be an Armstrong Scholar, students must be undergraduate Arizona residents who are orphans, wards of the court, in foster care or are otherwise qualified, independent students. In addition to their socioeconomic status, students are selected based on their level of academic achievement and ambition and demonstrated ability to overcome personal obstacles.
In 2009, a new funding component was added to the program, allowing undergraduate Armstrong Scholars to apply for additional funding should they elect to pursue graduate studies at ASU. To date, 14 Armstrong Scholars have chosen to continue their education – at ASU and elsewhere.
“We are honored to provide a family atmosphere to these students through the Armstrong Scholars program,” says Jim. “Our daughter-in-law was an orphan, and the challenges she faced putting herself through college inspired us to help students in similar situations. Through the years, the magnitude of our impact on these students made it clear to us that we needed to continue our efforts. That’s why we endowed the program, and it gives us great comfort knowing that we will be able to help many more generations of students.”
Jim and Jo-Ann’s involvement with their scholars is well beyond that of typical grantors. They meet with the scholars regularly not only to ensure they are succeeding with their studies, but also to help them work through obstacles that may hinder their success. The results of that involvement have been nothing short of remarkable.
“Without the Armstrongs’ help, I would not have been able to make it as far as I have,” says Joy Riles, who graduated from ASU in 2009 with a bachelor’s in psychology. “They gave me a chance to expand my horizons and better myself. They have changed my life and I think it’s amazing what they do. The Armstrongs have a huge impact on many young people who may not be fortunate enough to put themselves through school, and I am so grateful I was one of them.”
In addition to their academic and personal support, the Armstrongs instill in their scholars an appreciation for giving back. It’s all part of Jim and Jo-Ann’s belief in reciprocal giving to maximize the effect of philanthropy. Accordingly, Armstrong Scholars join them in community service. The scholars tutor inner-city children through ASU’s Service Learning program at the Salvation Army. They also accompany the Armstrongs to Agua Prieta, Mexico, where they work with the citizens there to improve living conditions.
“The incredible sense of satisfaction we get from observing and participating in the development of students joining our program is our primary reward,” says Jo-Ann. “Seeing these incredible students mature from typically insecure freshmen into well-educated, highly confident graduates is an experience that is unmatched in our lives. These students will go out in the world armed with educational accomplishments that help them excel in the field of their choice, and, most importantly, without the burden of student loans.”
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