$500,000 gift intensifies Clark focus on urban education

Gurel, Lee cmp

Clark alumnus and former Worcester resident Lee Gurel, Ph.D., of Alexandria, Va., has given $500,000 to the University to establish the Endowed Education Fund, aiming to help "share the secret" of Clark's model of effective urban education.

The gift provides for a permanent endowment designed to help close the gap between research and practice, promising to leverage the effectiveness of Clark's Mosakowski Institute for Public Enterprise through mobilization of rigorous use-inspired research that improves the field of urban education. The fund will support research on the effectiveness of teachers in urban schools, the role of school leadership in educational performance, and the welfare of children and families as it relates to school success, and will enable others to learn from the successes of the University Park Campus School and the lessons uncovered by the Jacob Hiatt Center for Urban Education.

Dr. Gurel was born in Europe in 1926 and came to the U.S. when he was three years old. He grew up in Worcester and attended Worcester public schools, graduating from Classical High School in 1943 and earning a B.A. in psychology at Clark in 1948. He went on to earn his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Purdue University in 1950 and 1952, respectively.

Dr. Gurel enjoyed a long career as a research psychologist with the Veterans Administration. He last held the position of Chief of Research in Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences at the Washington, D.C. VA Hospital. He retired from full-time work in the early 1990s but continued in a part-time consulting role until 1998.

"I feel that I—as we all do—owe a debt to the teachers and institutions that equipped us for fuller, more satisfying lives," said Dr. Gurel. "The concept of debt goes beyond what fundraisers preach as 'giving back.' A contribution to education, for me, goes beyond that choice, that volitional act. No matter how inadequate it may have been, we have an obligation, a debt, to repay education for equipping us with life style tools and for enriching our lives."

"All of Clark is deeply grateful to Dr. Gurel for his generosity and commitment," said Bill Mosakowski '76, Chairman of the Board of Trustees and founding donor (along with his wife, Jane Mosakowski '75) of the Mosakowski Institute for Public Enterprise. "I am hopeful that his gift will serve as an example to other alumni to create new endowments within the Institute that will catalyze useful research across a wide range of issues."

The establishment of this Endowed Education Fund will encompass a variety of activities:

  • The Gurel Speakers Fund will provide opportunities for high-level discussions and workshops surrounding issues of education on and off the Clark campus.
  • The Gurel Faculty Development Fund will provide seed money to enhance faculty research and leverage discovery of new ideas and practices related to urban education and teacher development. In addition to supporting Clark faculty, the fund may be used to support visiting faculty or practitioners who have special contributions to make to Clark's understanding of urban education.
  • The Gurel Student Research Fellowship Fund will supply stipends for undergraduate, graduate, or post-doctoral researchers in order that they may develop and enhance skills linking research and practice. Gurel Fellowships will enable select students to conduct research that provides insights into enduring solutions surrounding the challenges of urban school education on a project directed by the Mosakowski Institute for Public Enterprise and/or Clark faculty.

"Dr. Gurel is passionate about education, because he has felt its impact on his own life," said Jim Gomes, director of the Mosakowski Institute for Public Enterprise, which oversees the endowed fund. "His extraordinarily generous gift will help Clark researchers discover knowledge that will improve the lives of future generations of urban students."

Dr. Gurel said he compares gifting to education to a loan from the bank. "You really have no choice but to repay that debt to the bank -- or else! There's no such ironclad requirement for repaying the debt for your schooling. But, ideally, we should feel the obligation as a moral imperative as binding as the legal requirement. I think that's especially true in our society where we keep public education on a starvation diet (compared to other industrialized nations) and where so much of the population begrudges tax dollars for schools."

Dr. Gurel has a long history of philanthropy at Clark and beyond, always with a focus on improving education. In 1995, he established the Lee Gurel/John E. Bell Endowed Student/Faculty Achievement Award which recognizes an outstanding student in psychology and the professor the student deemed most crucial to his or her success. John E. Bell was Dr. Gurel's favorite professor while he was a student at Clark; his gift, he claims, is "distinctly a reflection of [his] debt to [Bell]."

In 1999, he established the Gurel Asian Studies Endowed Fund, which allows for an annual prize to outstanding students in Asian Studies. In 2004, he funded a collaboration between Clark University and the American Psychological Association to advance the teaching of psychology at the pre-collegiate level. In recent years, he established a prize within the Worcester Public Schools system that recognizes students for outstanding achievement in AP English.

Although Dr. Gurel has funded physical facilities for learning (a Learning Center at the APA Library and a circulation desk at Northern Virginia Community College), he prefers to focus his gifts on something personally relevant to him or on areas of study that need support. For instance, while taking classes at Northern Virginia Community College, he observed a fellow student struggling to stay awake during class because she was stretching herself thin, trying to make ends meet. Dr. Gurel later established a scholarship fund to provide emergency assistance to students. "Sometimes, there are very small amounts that spell the difference between whether students can stay enrolled or not," said Dr. Gurel.

"I'm definitely not a wealthy individual," said Dr. Gurel. "I was on a salary all my life and was never in any lucrative kind of field. I have enough money to make some donations." This most recent gift, he says, "is an expression of [his] faith in the University and what it can do with a little extra [money]." Dr. Gurel is married to Linda Loy and has two children from a previous marriage.