Donors establish scholarships for a number of reasons. For James D. Wagner ’59, it was the desire to help students like him.
Wagner, who attended Nichols Junior College, struggled as a student due to his dyslexia, a learning disability that affects reading, writing, spelling and the organizing of information. However, because Nichols was a smaller school, it provided a better setting for him to succeed academically. “A lot of very successful people are dyslexic,” he explains. “Like me, they just have to work harder at it.”
In 2013, Wagner established an endowed scholarship for students with dyslexia. His gift of nearly $380,000 is the largest outright scholarship gift in the college’s history. In establishing the scholarship, Wagner acknowledged having serious dyslexia, even though it wasn’t until he was in his 50s that he was diagnosed with the learning disability. Although he contributes annually to Nichols, Wagner was sold on the scholarship idea when he learned that he could target it to a specific kind of student. “It feels good to help someone who is in a similar circumstance as I was back in 1957,” he states.
When Jim Dunbar ’51 heard about the scholarship, he was moved to donate $120,000 to the fund. In a letter to Nichols President Susan West Engelkemeyer, he wrote, “…I was truly excited to learn about the great work that you are doing today at Nichols College in support of dyslexic students.” Dunbar, chairman of Dunbar Armored, further wrote that he was “an ardent supporter of efforts to help students, like I was, who suffer with dyslexia.”
One of the first scholarship recipients, Steven Miller ’16, was shocked and grateful to learn he had received the scholarship. “I didn’t know that there was a scholarship like this. I feel that to a certain extent, dyslexia still isn’t recognized as a disorder in today’s society. Mr. Wagner obviously went through the same pain and suffering that I did when I was a kid,” he says. “He clearly understands how traumatic it is to be dyslexic. For me, it’s been very personal. It’s tough getting something wrong in class and being laughed at by classmates, peers, and friends,” he adds.
As with other recipients, the scholarship helps Miller’s family to pay for college. “Receiving this scholarship helps my family a lot. They invested a lot of money sending me to a specialized high school to help with my disability. Now sending me to college just adds to that burden. Sometimes it’s difficult for them,” Miller says.
“It feels good to help someone who is in a similar circumstance as I was back in 1957.”
James Wagner ’59