FACETIME- Wright's stuff: The man with the scholarships
A free ride to UVA. With such a potent recruiting tool, it's surprising how far below the radar Jimmy Wright flies. The 56-year-old president of UVA's Jefferson Scholars Foundation manages the the lavish scholarships that rope in some of the nation's best and brightest young students– and let many get away.
"If we're talking to the right people, they're people who can go to the nation's most prestigious and selective schools," he says. "If they weren't turning us down, we'd be worried."
Beginning as a project of the UVA Alumni Association 1981, the independent foundation has had its share of bumps, including a double murder caused by Jefferson Scholar Jens Soering in 1985. More likely, if less headline-grabbing, are the Jefferson Scholars who've gone on to advanced degrees: 80 percent. And two of them are now on the faculty of their alma mater.
With only 30 to 35 undergraduate Jefferson Scholarships awarded each year, it's a very select club. And even the selection process has a clever way of helping UVA. There are 2,400 high schools that are each allowed to nominate one student for the honor. Recent statistics suggest that nearly 10 percent of incoming UVA freshmen were nominees.
Wright previously served as assistant director of the John Motley Morehead Foundation, a similar initiative at the University of North Carolina, but when the architects of the Jefferson Scholars Foundation visited Chapel Hill while designing the UVA program, they promptly began to try to lure him northward.
"The intent of both efforts is very similar," says Wright. "The major difference was that the Jefferson Scholars Program did not have very much capital behind it, and the Morehead foundation had a large endowment."
When Wright moved to Charlottesville in 1985, he found an organization in dire financial straits, but he managed to help turn the tide within a few years thanks to equal measures of schmoozing and elbow grease.
"We haven't really had any one person make a mega-gift to us," he says. "A lot of people have given a lot of money, and a lot of people have asked a lot of people to give a lot of money. Now we have more capital than the Morehead Foundation."
One recent round of fundraising culminated in creation of the Jimmy and Liz Wright Jefferson Fellowship as part of the Foundation's 25th anniversary celebration in May.
"There's no more appropriate way to honor him," says Christa Compton, who serves on the Foundation's board. "It's an extension of an already substantial legacy."
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO