While planning a trip to Germany in 2008, Jill McGovern, PhD, and her husband, former Johns Hopkins University President Steven Muller, wanted to make sure their estate plans were in order. They began revising their wills and decided to commit to investing in future students accepted to the Bologna Center, now the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Europe.
“Steve had the benefit of studying on both sides of the Atlantic,” McGovern says. “We recognized the value of that.”
Initially, McGovern and Muller opted to endow fellowships only through their wills, supporting master’s-level students who would spend the first year of their program studying in Bologna, Italy, and the second year in Washington, D.C. They requested that German students be given preference for the fellowship as a tribute to Muller’s German roots.
Then, they thought again. Their gift would only be realized when they were no longer here.
“We would never get to know these students, never have the pleasure of watching them study and then begin their careers,” McGovern remembers. “So, we made gifts for current use and extended the benefits of these gifts by including provisions in our wills to provide endowment funding for the fellowship program.”
To date, there have been 14 recipients of the Jill McGovern and Steven Muller Fellowship — SAIS graduates working around the globe in international finance and clean energy, at startup companies, and even as the chief-of-staff to the German ambassador to the U.S. — whom McGovern calls her “German children.”
“I have had the great privilege and satisfaction of getting to know all of them,” she adds. “They’ve pursued interesting careers in different places around the world, and many now are married and have children themselves. Because it’s Hopkins, we get the best students. So, it’s a wise investment. The return on investment is evident, and what our students are doing is making a difference in the world already.”
McGovern established a similar program with both current-use and legacy giving for undergraduates at the Johns Hopkins Peabody Institute. The scholarship funds a student for four years, and McGovern especially enjoys watching the recipients’ progress and attending their performances.
The current recipient, Jiacheng Li, is a pianist from China who just completed his second year.
“He’ll call me and say, ‘I’m going to come to D.C. and see you. Let’s go to the National Gallery of Art,’” McGovern says, adding Li hasn’t able to return home for several years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We actually have a date planned next month.”
For McGovern, current-use gifts and sustained funding of these gifts through stipulations in her will are both vital to advancing Hopkins’ mission. Current-use gifts allow donors the ability to connect with the recipients of their gifts, be it following a faculty member embarking on cutting-edge research or meeting a D.C.-based fellowship student for a cup of coffee. And endowing these current-use gifts through her will gives her the satisfaction of knowing her gifts will last well into the future.
Current-use gifts also address the priorities of Johns Hopkins at that moment.
In celebration of its 75th anniversary in 2019, SAIS set a goal to increase graduate student fellowships. To help support that mission, McGovern used current-use funds to match other donor gifts with a five-year commitment and the opportunity for the donors to name the fellowships.
The model was so successful — some alumni donors joined together to create a fellowship, and another alum used the matching opportunity to name two fellowships — that McGovern later partnered with the Hopkins-Nanjing Center to provide the same opportunity in honor of the center’s 35th anniversary in 2021.
These new gifts will expand her existing commitment to the McGovern-Muller Fellowships at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, which are also supported by current-use and legacy giving.
“That means we have students who might decide to come to the Hopkins-Nanjing Center because they have a fellowship,” she says.
Though McGovern has found immense joy in connecting with current students, she’s also proud to support the future of Johns Hopkins through her estate.
“There has to be this kind of investment to make sure there’s future funding for faculty members, fellowships, research, teaching — all the aspects of the work that the university does,” McGovern says, adding that the commitment through her estate plan will perpetuate the fellowship programs at SAIS and Peabody. “It’s very reassuring to me to know that this is going to continue.”
McGovern’s leadership gifts have allowed alumni donors to deepen their connection to their alma mater, and her current-use and legacy giving has provided students the opportunity to pursue their intellectual passions. But she says she’s the one who has gained the most.
“I’m the one who benefits,” she says. “I’m truly the one who benefits.”
Topics: Peabody Institute, School of Advanced International Studies, Support Scholars
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