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University of Memphis’ Empowering the Dream Centennial Campaign Exceeds $200 Million Mark with Gift from Jim and Gina Wiertelak

For release: June 7, 2012
For press information, contact Curt Guenther, 901-678-2843

Jim and Gina Wiertelak
Jim and Gina Wiertelak

The Carolyn L. Wiertelak Chair of Teaching and Learning will be established at the University of Memphis by virtue of a $3 million commitment from Jim and Gina Wiertelak in tribute to his late mother and her 35-year career as an elementary school teacher.

The gift will enable the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences to recruit a nationally recognized scholar who has a reputation for producing innovative research in the field of early childhood and elementary education.

In making the gift, Jim Wiertelak said, “Gina and I believe a part of being a good citizen is philanthropy and the support of education.  We are blessed to be in a position to accomplish both goals.”

 “This is an extraordinary gift from two extraordinary people,” said Dr. Shirley Raines, president of the University of Memphis.  “The commitment to establish the Carolyn L. Wiertelak Chair of Teaching and Learning is a meaningful way to recognize someone who influenced thousands of people through her work as an early childhood educator.  With this visionary gift, Jim and Gina Wiertelak will perpetuate his mother’s concern for preparing excellent teachers.”

Dr. Donald Wagner, dean of the College, noted “The impact of early childhood and elementary educators on children’s future success cannot be overstated.  The building blocks for social emotional development are laid in preschool.  The Carolyn L. Wiertelak Chair of Teaching and Learning will enhance the reputation of the College’s early childhood and elementary education programs, thus strengthening the University’s ability to attract other renowned educators and researchers.”

Jim comes from a long history of educators, including his grandparents, mother, sister, niece, and a daughter.  Gina and Jim are both products of public education, with Gina coming from Lonoke, Arkansas, schools and Jim from the Chicago public school system.

While Gina’s son attended Ridgeway Middle School and Ridgeway High School in Memphis, they were supporters of the arts program there, as well as the girls’ basketball program at Overton High School.  The Wiertelaks are avid supporters of University of Memphis and are U of M Athletics Ambassadors.

Jim retired last year from Sedgwick Claims Management after 35 years as chief operating officer.  He is currently chairman of the board of the Orpheum Theatre.  Gina is retired from a career in commercial insurance.  She is now president of the Fast Break Club, the booster club for the women’s basketball program at the U of M.

The U of M College of Education, Health and Human Sciences has a strong foundation upon which to build teacher education.  Of the 60 four-year public and private colleges and universities in Tennessee, it is the public institution with the most nationally recognized teacher education programs; and several of those are the only nationally recognized programs of their kind in the state.

The College’s distinguished faculty lead 16 research centers, including the Center for Research in Educational Policy (CREP), a state-designated Center of Excellence dedicated to improving Pre-K through 12th grade education.

Through work with the College’s two lab schools, the Barbara K. Lipman Early Childhood School and Research Center and the Campus School, the College’s graduates enter the teaching work force as leaders, trained for and dedicated to classroom excellence.  The U of M is one of fewer than 100 institutions of higher learning in the United States with such lab schools.

The Wiertelak Chair will join other College initiatives such as Tigers Teach, the Memphis Literacy Academy, and CREP’s evaluation of the Smithsonian Institution’s School Science Education Initiative that involves 75,000 rural and urban students in grades one through eight and 3,000 teachers and administrators in Indiana, Texas, and North Carolina.

Endowed faculty positions, such as the Wiertelak Chair, are a key priority in the University’s $250 million Empowering the Dream Centennial Campaign.  To date, more than $205 million has been secured, which represents 82% of the goal.  The campaign ends June 30, 2013.

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