Not Just a Name

Endowed professorships send strong message of support

Campaign Montana donors committed more than $45 million to support faculty and staff, including 16 named and endowed awards that will nearly double the number of named chairs, professorships, directorships and fellowships at UM. During the campaign, UM established its first ever named dean position, the Sprunk and Burnham Endowed Dean of the College of Business, as well as its first named chair in the humanities, the Lucile Speer Research Chair in Politics and History.

The prestigious named and endowed positions help UM recruit and retain top faculty and staff. Financial resources associated with named and endowed positions can supplement state salaries, provide access to research and professional development opportunities, and help faculty engage students in research and other experiential learning opportunities.

Below, Jeb Puryear, the Suzanne and Dave Peterson Distinguished Professor of Gifted Education, shares the impact of receiving this kind of support and reflects on what it means to hold such a venerated title.

Jeb Puryear

How long have you served in the Suzanne and Dave Peterson Professor of Gifted Education role?

I am in my second year holding the endowed professorship in gifted education. This component of my role was part of the hiring process and part of what made me interested in coming to UM. There are only a handful of these types of positions throughout the country and few are available to faculty early in their career like me.

What does holding an endowed professorship mean to you professionally?

It means a great deal. Given the niche of my specialty and the general lack of support for gifted education across Montana, to me the endowed professorship reminds me that I am not alone. When there are struggles or advocacy efforts don’t go as planned, I can always remember the Petersons believe in the work I am doing and it maintains my fire.

What do you think it does for UM students studying education?

I think it signals that there are people outside the University that see certain areas as being important or generally under-supported. When individuals in these roles make the best of them, many students can be reached. In my case, having the endowed professorship in place ultimately leads to teacher candidates who are better prepared to take on the challenges they will have as professional educators.

What has the opportunity to develop a relationship with the Petersons meant to you?

The Petersons sharing their personal story was incredibly meaningful. I know that it’s not just a monetary gift they’ve given — it’s a bit of their heart and soul. It’s personal. I try to reflect that personal touch and passion in my daily interactions and long-term visioning for my role.