The largest single gift to higher education in Alabama will support student scholarships and a center for ethics and leadership at Samford University.
Samford is a Baptist-affiliated school based in Birmingham. Founded in 1841, Samford currently enrolls 5,758 students in its 10 academic schools, which include undergraduate and graduate programs in religion as well as a seminary, Beeson Divinity School.
The $100 million gift from the estate of a 1954 alumnus will be “transformational” for the university, President Beck A. Taylor said. He called the gift “unmatched in the institution’s history books.”
The gift comes from the estate of Marvin Mann, who died March 19. According to Mann’s will, $95 million will go toward endowed student scholarships and $5 million will go to support the Frances Marlin Mann Center for Ethics and Leadership, which was established by Mann in 2008 in honor of his late wife, Frances.
That center provides resources to students, faculty, staff and Alabama nonprofits focused on the understanding and practice of positive character and servant-leadership with core values including humility, hospitality, social justice, inclusion and service to others.
The center’s programs include a “For the Good” leadership speaker series and student volunteer and community-based internship opportunities and days of service.
Nearly 70 years ago, Mann became the first person in his family to earn a college degree. He earned a business degree at Samford, then enlisted in the U.S. Navy, where he served honorably. He then earned an MBA from the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa.
He worked for IBM 32 years, eventually rising to serve as CEO of the IBM Information Products Corp. He was a leader within the team that in 1974 developed and marketed the Universal Product Code, which today is ubiquitous in identifying merchandise for scanning. Later in his career he was named president of Satellite Business Systems, a communication company that placed satellites into space and enabled the expansion of wireless networks. Finally, he became the founder and CEO of Lexmark, a printer company based in Lexington, Ky.
Samford officials said more than 100 students will benefit each year from scholarships made possible by Mann’s gift. During the 2021-22 academic year, the university funded nearly $75 million of scholarships for its students.
“Access and affordability remain two of the largest opportunities Samford has to extend its reach to more students and families,” President Taylor said. “These funds will allow us to come alongside students who want to attend Samford in new and exciting ways while also reaching new populations of prospective students for whom Samford will be a great choice for their educational needs.”
The $5 million designated for the Frances Marlin Mann Center for Ethics and Leadership will be added to the center’s current endowment to sustain and strengthen Samford’s emphasis on virtue and character formation.
“Teaching students how to succeed in the world of business is no longer enough,” Mann said in 2008 when the center was announced. “They must also enter their careers with a complete understanding of the connections between performance, ethics and leadership.”
Mann’s obituary described him as “a devoted Christian” who “frequently served in the roles as deacon and committee leader in the Baptist church.”
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