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The donors behind a $50M scholarship fund announced at inauguration

During his inauguration on Oct. 26, President Farnam Jahanian announced that Carnegie Mellon received a large donation pledge of $50 million dollars from alumni Tod and Cindy Johnson.

The Johnsons, who graduated from Carnegie Mellon in 1966 and 1968 respectively, made this pledge specifically with student aid in mind. The funds will be used for scholarships and persistence services to help students succeed during their college career. Their scholarship gift is the largest one that the university has ever received.

Tod Johnson said in a Carnegie Mellon press release, “This is a gift that Cindy and I have always wanted to make. I see the societal and social effects of student debt in the lives of recent graduates whom my company hires and through our company’s research on consumer spending; it is becoming more apparent than ever before...we hope that this gift makes it possible for many more students to choose Carnegie Mellon without taking on a financial burden.”

Tod is the executive chairman of the NPD Group, Inc., a market-research firm, and he is also the current vice chair of Carnegie Mellon University’s Board of Trustees. He was the leader of the Presidential Search Committee that appointed President Jahanian.

The Johnson Family Scholarship Endowment will be used to meet the financial needs of both current and prospective undergraduate students. The aid will be particularly impactful for low- and middle-income students.

Dean of Admission Michael Steidel believes that the endowment will help alleviate the stress that families face in paying for education. He said, in the same press release “interest in Carnegie Mellon from students around the world continues to grow at an extraordinary pace, which we saw with a 19 percent increase in applicants last year. But prospective students and their families tell us the number one obstacle is the cost of attendance. Scholarship support like that made possible through the Johnsons’ tremendous generosity gives us the tools to help more of these talented students say ‘yes’ to CMU, their top choice.”

In addition to student scholarships, this contribution from the Johnsons will provide Carnegie Mellon with the financial flexibility needed to accommodate students who leave the university without completing their degrees, due to personal conflicts and issues.

Speaking to the motivation behind the pledge, Cindy Johnson explained that she and Tod wanted to support students as they begin their lives, just as Carnegie Mellon supported them when they were undergraduates. “Carnegie Mellon has meant so much to Tod and me from our very first days as undergraduates,” Johnson said. “Financial aid played a key role as we began our lives together, and we look forward to many generations of students seeing how their world opens up because of something so simple yet important as a scholarship.”

The Johnsons met when they were students at Carnegie Institute of Technology and married while they were both still enrolled in the university. Carnegie Institute of Technology became Carnegie Mellon University while they were students. Tod first received a bachelor’s degree in graphic arts management in 1966 and went on to earn a master’s degree in industrial administration in 1967. Cindy earned her bachelor’s degree in art in 1968.

During his speech, President Jahanian spoke about the role that education plays in changing people’s lives, and he expressed his gratitude toward the Johnsons. Jahanian said, “A Carnegie Mellon education and the unique experience our students gain during their time here is nothing short of life-changing. Especially at this time of societal transformation brought on by advances in technology, the world needs more CMU graduates who are prepared to lead this transition. We are awestruck by Cindy and Tod’s generosity and thrilled at how their support will greatly expand our ability to ensure a CMU education is within reach of all students.”