Philanthropy in Action: Fostering Student Success at the Davidson Honors College

Last October, UM alumni Ian and Nancy Davidson set out to revolutionize honors education at UM.

The couple, who has supported the honors college since its inception, directed their generous $1.5 million gift to create two innovative initiatives: the Teaching, Research and Mentoring Fellows Program, and the Honors Career Development Program.

Both provide distinctive experiences just for honors students – opportunities that will help them grow intellectually and personally, and set the stage for future success.

The TRM Fellows Program brings recent doctoral graduates to campus to teach honors courses and engage students in their research. The first two fellows arrived in Missoula this summer.

Kentucky native Eliot Graham started his career as a middle and high school science teacher and that experience, he says, is what inspired him to study the theory of education.

“The experiences and problems I observed are what made me want to do research and understand things more deeply.”

Graham is teaching the course Race, Inequality and Education, and is also helping the student diversity coalition coordinate an initiative this spring.

“Mentoring is something that drew me to this position,” he says.

Californian Rachel Gross recently completed her doctorate at University of Wisconsin – Madison, focusing on the history of outdoor clothing and gear. As you might imagine, Montana is a fantastic place to continue this research.

“One of the cool things about me landing here is the connection between my academic work and the interests of people who are here,” she says.

Gross will be working with honors students on a new project to explore local outdoor recreation history, bringing a regional focus to her larger study. Students will interview Western Montanans and collect artifacts, which will be developed into an exhibit at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula.

Elsewhere at the honors college, a new staff member, Kaetlyn Cordingley, is launching the Honors Career Development Program from scratch.

She has already built out some preliminary programming, which will engage both students and regional businesses. She says her goal over the next year is to be a knowledge center.

“I want to make students aware of this new service that’s available, and help them connect to resources that already exist on campus.”

When fully implemented, the Honors Career Development Program will provide students with four years of guidance, support and preparation for post-collegiate life.

“Though I’m working with an initial cohort of 20 students to pilot program offerings, I can meet with any student in the college,” she says. “We’ll determine all of the pieces that come together to help set them in the direction of success.”

To find out how you can innovate alongside the Davidsons, contact Chelsea Spreeman at, or 406.243.2567. The DHC is seeking funding for four more fellows, as well as operating budget and internship stipend support for honors students in the Career Development Program.

Eliot Graham
Rachel Gross
Kaetlyn Cordingley