ATHENS, Ga. – The University of Georgia Honors Program has received a $1 million gift from Jane S. Willson of Albany that will enable honors students to study abroad.
The gift will create the Willson International Honors Scholars Program to provide grants for students to travel to other countries. The grants are not limited to a specific region of the world but will concentrate on travel to Africa.
The gift is among the largest private contributions to the Honors Program, which provides specialized study opportunities for academically superior UGA students. The program awards scholarships and internships to students, enables them to experience travel study and encourages participation in undergraduate research projects. With more than 2,500 participants, UGA’s Honors Program is one of the largest, oldest and most respected such programs in the nation.
Willson owns Sunnyland Farms in Albany, the largest mail order pecan business in the country. She founded the company with her late husband, Harry, who died in November of 2004. World travellers and art patrons, the Willsons have had a strong interest in education and international affairs.
“Jane’s gift to the Honors Program is yet another expression of her strong belief that education holds the key to achieving cooperation and harmony among nations,” said UGA President Michael F. Adams. “Because of her extraordinary vision and commitment, University of Georgia students will be able not only to learn more about the world, but also to make a difference in the world, and that is the real significance of Jane’s generosity.”
The Willsons are long-time supporters of UGA’s Honors Program. They have assisted the Foundation Fellows Program, which is part of the Honors Program, and Jane Willson has served on the Honors Program Advisory Board since 2000.
“International travel-study is one of the linchpins of the Honors experience at UGA,” said David S. Williams, director of the Honors Program. “We are deeply indebted to Jane for her generosity in establishing this new scholarship program for our very best students.”
Though Jane Willson graduated from Wellesley College, and Harry Willson earned a bachelor’s degree from Emory and a master’s from Harvard, the couple has had strong ties to UGA. They previously gave $1 million to UGA’s Center for International Trade and Security to create an endowment that brings visiting scholars and international leaders to the university, and develops international internship opportunities for students.
Another gift from the Willsons endowed UGA’s Center for Humanities and Arts, which has been named the Jane and Harry Willson Center for Humanities and Arts. The couple also endowed professorships in the humanities and in the Terry College of Business, created a scholarship fund for undergraduates and has supported the State Botanical Garden at UGA.
Jane has served as a trustee of the UGA Foundation and the University of Georgia Research Foundation. She serves on the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences board of advisors. She is also a member of the Presidents Club and the Heritage Society. In 2004, she received the Blue Key Service Award from the UGA chapter of Blue Key honor society.