Penny Bender Sebring ’64, a life trustee of Grinnell College, and her husband Charles Ashby Lewis established in 2013 the Education Professions Community and recently increased their investment in students by creating the Business and Finance Community, stretching their commitment to $1.35 million.

The Chicago couple’s gift both fulfils and expands upon their interest to advance students’ career aspirations in education and business through the establishment of career-focused communities within the College’s Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS).

“Penny’s and Chuck’s generous gift advances the ability of Grinnell College to transform students’ lives through distinctive and strategically grown liberal arts programs,” says Grinnell President Raynard S. Kington. “Their investment in this community model is responsive to the interests of our students and alumni, and it empowers them to make optimal career choices.”

Sebring and Lewis set the cornerstone of the CLS career-focused community model with the creation of the Education Professions (Ed Pros) Community. Having since strengthened their support of that successful community, their most recent gift further seed-funds the CLS strategy by creating a Business and Finance Community that engages students and alumni in informed career decision-making within business-related fields.

According to Mark Peltz, Daniel and Patricia Jipp Finkelman Dean of Careers, Life, and Service, additional career-focused communities are envisioned in the future as part of the overall CLS framework. He credits Sebring’s and Lewis’ support of the education and business communities for providing both a vision for programmatic success and impetus for future funding.

“Penny and Chuck have an unwavering passion for making a difference in the lives of Grinnell students,” Peltz says. “The investments they have made to create the Education Professions and Business and Finance communities are evidence of their commitment and passion.”

Ed Pros aims at encouraging a highly diverse student membership to explore the breadth of opportunities available in all areas of education. Students and recent graduates engage in meetings, retreats, workshops, and events that attract both local and national speakers. Ed Pros Treks to national conferences and places like the U.S. Department of Education in Washington D.C. expose students to policy, research, and trends across the profession.

Sebring’s and Lewis’ early-stage investment in the Business and Finance Community will similarly help students and alumni build networks and discover how their liberal arts education can propel them into careers in finance, marketing, human resources, and related areas.

Both Kington and Peltz emphasized the importance of establishing the first two career-focused communities in the context of CLS’s long-term plan in which all upper-division students would belong to one of seven such cohorts. In addition to education and business, those include: arts and communication; government and social service; law; health professions; and science and technology.

Ed Pros set a precedent for the success of career-focused communities by demonstrating a 100% growth rate in student membership in its first three years. Twenty-eight students have graduated as Ed Pros members, and 89 Grinnell College alumni working in education have participated in Ed Pros events and networking. This fall, 40% of Ed Pros members identify as students of color and a record 20% are male.

“Chuck and I are extremely pleased with the efficacy of the Ed Pros Community,” Sebring says. “We believe that the career-focused community model provides powerful opportunities for students and alumni to apply their liberal arts education for both personal success and society’s benefit.”

As with their investment in Ed Pros, Sebring’s and Lewis’ gift to establish the Business and Finance Community provides operating support as well as a content specialist who will advise students, cultivate career connections, and serve as institutional liaison to the Harvard Business School and its HBX Credential of Readiness (CORe) Program.

“The true value of this investment is in the impact it is having and will continue to have on the lives of Grinnell students,” says Shane Jacobson, vice president for development and alumni relations. “We are grateful for their philanthropic leadership, their informed interest in the future of our students, and their creation of funding opportunities that will help ensure the long-term viability of career-focused communities at the College.”

Sebring, a Grinnell trustee since 1993 and a life trustee since 2005, is senior research associate at the University of Chicago and Co-founder of the UChicago Consortium on School Research at the Urban Education Institute. Lewis is chairman of the Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation and managing general partner of Coach House Capital. He is a retired chairman of investment banking at Merrill Lynch and Co.

Grinnell College last year awarded individual honorary Doctor of Laws degrees to Sebring and Lewis for their strategic and philanthropic efforts to improve education in America.

Sebring and Lewis are co-creators of Careers in Education Professions programs at three colleges: Amherst College, where Lewis is an alumnus and a life trustee; the University of Chicago, where Lewis is also a trustee; and at Grinnell. The three initiatives work to increase the number of highly talented students from elite colleges pursuing careers in education and to enhance the professionalization of teaching.

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