Hollywood Ending: Another Big Alumni Gift With a Veterans Angle

The following narrative reads like something straight out of Hollywood.

A kid from Cokeburg, Pennsylvania, enrolls at Penn State in 1953, only to leave and serve in the U.S. Marine Corps. He returns four years later, gets his degree in journalism, and moves to Hollywood in the late 1970s, where he makes his mark as one of television's preeminent writers and producers. 

Over 30 years later, the story comes full circle as the successful alumnus gives a $30 million gift to his alma mater's School of Communications. The gift, announced in April, is the fifth largest in the university's history.

This is the story of Donald Bellisario, known for creating such television hits as Magnum, P.I., Quantum Leap, JAG and NCIS, proving that in the world of philanthropy, sometimes truth is far more compelling than fiction (or in this case, a screenplay).

The bulk of the gift from Bellisario and his wife Vivienne will be used to create a scholarship fund for communication majors, giving preference to undergraduates who serve or served in the military. The gift will also support internships and residential programs in media markets around the country for undergrads and create a state-of-the-art digital studio, media operations, and space for film and video making.

Bellisario is another example of a donor tailoring a higher ed gift for fellow veterans. Last year, for example, University of Chicago Booth School of Business alumnus and Marine Corp veteran Eric Gleacher made a $10 million gift to his alma mater to fund a scholarship program for U.S. veterans seeking a Chicago Booth MBA.

The Bellisario gift also comes on the heels of New York University’s Stern School of Business alumnus Lorenzo Fertitta and brother Frank J. Fertitta III $15 million endowment gift to create the Fertitta Veterans Program exclusively for U.S. military veteran and active duty students entering the school’s MBA program.

In 2006 the Bellisarios gave one of the largest gifts ever made through the trustee-matching scholarship program with their $1 million commitment to establish the Donald P. Bellisario Trustee scholarship. Bellisario also has donated materials from his career, including script drafts and raw footage, for use in classes.

"Don Bellisario is one of our greatest examples of how military experience and a Penn State education can prepare students for lifetimes of success and service," said university President Eric Barron. "The Bellisario scholarship funds, paired with an investment by the university, will allow countless students to follow in his footsteps."