Sage Receives Largest Gift in History, Names School of Education

March 1, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Donna Robinson Esteves '70ALBANY & TROY, N.Y. – The Sage Colleges President Susan Scrimshaw is thrilled to announce a transformative gift of $10 million from alumna Donna Esteves '70. In honor of her generosity, the School of Education will be named the Esteves School of Education.

The news was announced March 1 at the spring meeting of Sage's Board of Trustees, of which Esteves is chair. A former teacher, Esteves dedicated a portion of the phased gift to support the education school and its programs, faculty and outreach initiatives on both the Albany and Troy campuses.

The Esteves School of Education offers bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees and certificates for teachers, instructional specialists, counselors, behavior analysts, and school leaders. The school was the first in the Capital Region to achieve prestigious accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) in 2001. In addition to its programs and professional resources for educators, the school offers a Spring Speaker Series of notable figures in education and extensive community outreach initiatives with area schools and schoolchildren.

President Susan C. Scrimshaw, Ph.D., said of the gift, "Just as Sage's history of providing education to women in the early 1900s was made possible by the generosity of one progressive woman, Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, so does this generous investment by one woman strengthen the Sage of today and ensure that it enters its next century as an innovative modern educational institution."

The gift surpasses Mrs. Sage's founding gift even in today's dollars, and will provide Sage with funds for current renovation projects as well as long-term support for the college's endowment, continuing to improve Sage's financial stability.

"Sage is poised to take its rightful place at the forefront of comprehensive private colleges that are nimbly adapting to the changing educational and economic landscape," Esteves said. "I am gratified that I can help Sage fulfill its potential – as it did the same for me."

Esteves earned a B.A. in English from Russell Sage in 1970 and then started her career in education teaching grade school in the Louisiana Bayou and the New Orleans suburbs. She earned the Master of Arts in Teaching from Tulane University and taught at a junior college before returning to her native New Jersey and changing careers. But she still considers education her first love.

"Sage's School of Education provides exceptional programs for teachers, counselors and administrators, as well as many outreach programs and partnerships that positively impact the community. I am so proud to support their continued endeavors. It is a wise investment in every way."

Lori V. Quigley, Ph.D., dean of the Esteves School of Education, said, "Donna's generosity and passion for education will enable our professional education faculty to expand their research and maintain the high standards and quality programs for which we are known; provide the means to strengthen students' clinical experiences; and allow us to continue expanding our work with schools and agencies in the community."

The Power of One

When a teacher hiring freeze prompted Esteves to change careers, she spent a lucrative stint selling Mary Kay cosmetics – at one point reaching #19 in the country in sales – and then formulated a business idea based on her husband Richard's enterprise retrofitting homes to conserve energy. She surmised that those at home during the day – mostly mothers of young children and older women– would be more comfortable letting a woman into their home than a man. She capitalized on her female-centric business experience with Mary Kay and her women's college education at Russell Sage and started her own company, Free Lighting Corp., employing women to install energy-efficient lighting in homes. She sent individuals instead of large crews so they could complete jobs in under an hour and seven to 10 installations a day instead of one or two. Her business grew into the largest energy conservation contractor of its kind in the U.S.

She sold the business in 2001, and with a "little extra coin in her pocket," she decided to do something in memory of her mother, whom she'd lost five years before. So she called Russell Sage and set up a scholarship in her mother's name for education majors. She joined the board in 2005, and just three years later was elected chair.

"For someone who was late in reconnecting with my alma mater, it's amazing how quickly Sage has become so deeply embedded in my heart," Esteves says. "And that's what moves me to do something: not my mind, but my heart."

In 2010, Esteves gave $1.5 million as a matching challenge to encourage additional gifts to build Sage's endowment. This latest gift of $10 million acts as an anchor for Sage's upcoming comprehensive campaign to celebrate the College's 100th anniversary in 2016. Currently in the planning phase, the effort will address vital academic, facilities and endowment needs on both Sage campuses.