April 29, 2021

A look back on a year when we rose to the challenge

Dear Furman Community,

Congratulations on another successful academic year – one of the most challenging any of us has had to face. We took it on together, as a community. It cannot be said enough that the reason we made it this far, and are planning for not one but two in-person Commencement ceremonies, is your tremendous resilience and the care you’ve shown each other.

This is why we’re also looking forward to holding various summer activities on campus, including research, internships, and camps and conferences. And this is why we’ll be able to return to “normal” in the fall, when we plan to have in-person classes and off-campus programs and resume other pre-pandemic activities.

Thank you to the students, faculty and staff who made all of this possible.

As we prepare to finish exams and graduate the class of 2021 and welcome back the class of 2020 for their delayed ceremony, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on our year and remind you of a few of our significant accomplishments and milestones for which this community deserves all the credit.

Dins Day

We’re still counting but it looks like this year’s Dins Day, held Tuesday on the last day of classes, will be our best ever in terms of participation. Final numbers will be announced in the coming days, and with the support of over 70 social advocates, the Furman family is on track to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to dozens of programs, departments and scholarship funds during the annual 24-hour celebration of Paladin pride and philanthropy. It was great to see all of the student involvement and activity on campus during the day.

Thank you, students, and to everyone else who gives to Furman.

Vision, Mission, Values

In January, the university unveiled its new Vision, Mission and Values statements, and an expanded institutional history, which includes an extended timeline that is more comprehensive and inclusive. A working group – chaired by former Trustee Baxter Wynn and including students, faculty, staff, alumni and trustees – drafted the new statements, which focus on who we are, where we want to go, and what defines us as a university and a community.

At the same time, the university announced its Strategic Diversity Plan, which expresses our philosophy around the concept of inclusive excellence while laying out a set of common goals and objectives.

Joseph Vaughn

In April, the university unveiled a statue of Joseph Vaughn on the Joseph Vaughn Plaza in front of the Duke Library. The statue was first suggested in the Seeking Abraham report of the Task Force on Slavery and Justice. Hundreds of students, faculty and staff, members of Joseph Vaughn’s family and invited members of the community attended in person and watched online.

Furman Engaged 

Also in April, nearly 2,000 people registered to attend the 13th annual Furman Engaged, a celebration of engaged learning featuring the work of more than 650 students who shared their internships, research, service learning, study away, creative projects and capstone experiences. The event began with the Second Annual Paladin Pitch Competition. All of these immersive student experiences show us what is possible at Furman.


In March, the university received a second $25 million grant from The Duke Endowment to expand and advance The Furman Advantage. The new grant brings The Duke Endowment’s direct total investment in The Furman Advantage to $52.5 million. Among other gifts this past year:

  • Trustee Emeritus Gordon Herring ’65 and Sarah Herring ’66 pledged $6.1 million to the Furman Department of Music to establish the Herring Music Chair Endowment and the Herring Music Fellowship Fund. The couple’s gift continues their decades-long generosity of time, guidance and financial support to the department.
  • Dr. Matthew W. Wilson ’86, a physician and member of the Board of Trustees, made a planned gift of $4 million to Furman’s Institute for the Advancement of Community Health to address global health care disparities. Matt’s gift will also fund an endowment and existing scholarships that help provide all students access to engaged learning opportunities.
  • Trustee James A. Lanier Jr. ’79 and Mary Anne Anderson Lanier ’79 added a $1 million planned giving commitment to Furman, bringing their total commitment to nearly $2.2 million. A previous gift of over $1 million was designated to the Shi Institute for Sustainable Communities. The Laniers hope students continue to recognize the interdependence among fields of study, and to see them carry that into practice.
  • Trustee Mary Seawell Metz ’58 committed $1 million to endow the director position of the Faculty Development Center. Mary’s passion for faculty development is linked to her professional work in the classroom and higher education administration.


  • In the fall, the Shi Center became the Shi Institute for Sustainable Communities, with a broader scope and vision as an education, applied research and leadership resource truly unique in the Southeast. Furman was also recognized as a top performer in the 2020 Sustainable Campus Index, ranking No. 9 overall among baccalaureate institutions.
  • The Furman Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship extended its reach, joining the city of Greenville’s economic development team in locating offices downtown with NEXT, an entrepreneurial-support organization that operates under the Greenville Chamber Foundation. The institute also hosted the second annual Paladin Pitch Competition.
  • Among a few highlights from The Riley Institute are its work on an oral history book project about the South Carolina Education Improvement Act of 1984 under the leadership of former Governor Dick Riley ’54; the completion of a five-year evaluation of OnTrack Greenville, a United Way of Greenville County initiative that helps students at high-poverty middle schools stay on track to graduate; and success from the White-Riley-Peterson Afterschool Policy Fellowship, which secured $310,000 through a continuation grant from the C.S. Mott Foundation
  • Over the past year, Furman’s Institute for the Advancement of Community Health connected students with internships at health-related companies, where they gained real-world experience with technologies and processes that helped us respond to the pandemic. For instance, Heath Hawkins ’20 interned with Humimic, which manufactures materials that mimic human tissue for use in medical training and made face shields for personal protective equipment, meeting an urgent demand as the pandemic set in.


Our student athletes continued their success in the arena and in the classroom. They had a combined 3.24 GPA in the fall semester and 150 student athletes earned Dean’s List honors. Fifteen out of 18 varsity teams received national recognition for their athletics accomplishments.

  • Six teams won Southern Conference Championships: men’s and women’s cross country, men’s soccer, women’s soccer, women’s lacrosse and women’s tennis.
  • Four teams reached NCAA championships: men’s and women’s cross country, women’s soccer and women’s tennis.
  • Five students were named Southern Conference Athletes of the Year. In addition, Cameron Ponder earned first team All American and Aaron Wier earned All American honors for men’s indoor track and field, and Ryan Adams and Gabbi Jennings, both of whom are Olympic hopefuls, had record-setting performances in track and field.

There were also record-breaking accomplishments in Athletics fundraising with over $8 million in commitments to date this year and over 1,000 individual gifts in support of Athletics programs during Dins Day.

For more on all of the above and the latest updates on Furman, please visit our news page and Athletics site.

Again, I could not be more grateful for the hard work and sacrifice of our entire campus community over the past year. I am so proud of you and all of your accomplishments. Whatever your plans are for the summer and fall, I wish you all the best and look forward to seeing you again soon.


Elizabeth Davis