By Chandra Harris-McCray
The road to earning her doctorate in physics and giving birth to her first child was made easier for Olga Ovchinnikova with a three-month stipend for maternity leave.
Without the support from the James W. McConnell Physics Excellence Endowment, Ovchinnikova would not have graduated in May. "I would have been a semester behind," she said. "It made all the difference for me and my family."
"It is a transformative difference" that is hard to adequately put into words for Soren Sorensen, the head of the UT Department of Physics and Astronomy.
James W. McConnell established the endowment with a $25,000 gift, and after his death in 2008, he supplemented this contribution by leaving a generous bequest for $1.4 million—the largest gift the physics department has ever received. McConnell, who received his bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering from UT, also established an identical fund in the College of Engineering.
With a chuckle of disbelief, Sorensen said, "Let's just say this—there is a distinct difference to the physics department before this gift and after this gift."
McConnell's legacy will be experienced a thousand times over through scholarships, fellowships, faculty support, and research efforts. Sorensen said, "His gift allows us to continue to be visionary and enhance the department's academic mission.
"We are now creating a planetarium to strengthen our educational and outreach efforts partly based on the McConnell endowment. We will also be able to establish a distinguished professorship which will be very important for our research efforts."
While Sorensen never had the privilege of meeting McConnell, he remains extremely grateful by his act of kindness. "He was an engineering graduate, not a physics graduate, but that did not matter to him because he understood the importance of scientists and engineers collaborating."
This concept was something McConnell not only understood, but also experienced as a neutron scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory for more than 35 years.
The seeds he helped plant at ORNL continue to grow as the University of Tennessee partners with ORNL on a number of efforts, including the UTK/ORNL Distinguished Graduate Fellowship program.
This innovative interdisciplinary doctoral program in energy science and engineering give budding scientists, like Ovchinnikova, a rare opportunity to complete their research at ORNL.
"ORNL is a dream come true for any researcher because you have access to the best scientists in the world," she says.
As part of the organic and biological mass spectrometry group, Ovchinnikova will continue her postdoctoral work at ORNL, where her father is a theoretical atomic physicist and also a UT research professor. Her husband, Stephen Jesse, also works at ORNL as a materials scientist.
"I applaud McConnell and others like him who give so students have more opportunities to succeed. It matters," she says. "When I was an undergraduate physics student at UT, there were hardly any scholarships available. That has changed."
"He is the ultimate Torchbearer," said Sorensen, referring to the highest student award UT bestows.
With no desire to receive any recognition or adulation for his gifts to UT, McConnell "shadowed himself to give light to others"—forever.
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A charitable bequest is one or two sentences in your will or living trust that leave to The University Of Tennessee a specific item, an amount of money, a gift contingent upon certain events or a percentage of your estate.
an individual or organization designated to receive benefits or funds under a will or other contract, such as an insurance policy, trust or retirement plan
"I, [name], of [city, state, ZIP], give, devise and bequeath to The University Of Tennessee [written amount or percentage of the estate or description of property] for its unrestricted use and purpose."
able to be changed or cancelled
A revocable living trust is set up during your lifetime and can be revoked at any time before death. They allow assets held in the trust to pass directly to beneficiaries without probate court proceedings and can also reduce federal estate taxes.
cannot be changed or cancelled
tax on gifts generally paid by the person making the gift rather than the recipient
the original value of an asset, such as stock, before its appreciation or depreciation
the growth in value of an asset like stock or real estate since the original purchase
the price a willing buyer and willing seller can agree on
The person receiving the gift annuity payments.
the part of an estate left after debts, taxes and specific bequests have been paid
a written and properly witnessed legal change to a will
the person named in a will to manage the estate, collect the property, pay any debt, and distribute property according to the will
A donor advised fund is an account that you set up but which is managed by a nonprofit organization. You contribute to the account, which grows tax-free. You can recommend how much (and how often) you want to distribute money from that fund to UT or other charities. You cannot direct the gifts.
An endowed gift can create a new endowment or add to an existing endowment. The principal of the endowment is invested and a portion of the principal’s earnings are used each year to support our mission.
Tax on the growth in value of an asset—such as real estate or stock—since its original purchase.
Securities, real estate, or any other property having a fair market value greater than its original purchase price.
Real estate can be a personal residence, vacation home, timeshare property, farm, commercial property or undeveloped land.
A charitable remainder trust provides you or other named individuals income each year for life or a period not exceeding 20 years from assets you give to the trust you create.
You give assets to a trust that pays our organization set payments for a number of years, which you choose. The longer the length of time, the better the gift tax savings to you. When the term is up, the remaining trust assets go to you, your family or other beneficiaries you select. This is an excellent way to transfer property to family members at a minimal cost.
You fund this type of trust with cash or appreciated assets—and receive an immediate federal income tax charitable deduction. You can also make additional gifts; each one also qualifies for a tax deduction. The trust pays you, each year, a variable amount based on a fixed percentage of the fair market value of the trust assets. When the trust terminates, the remaining principal goes to UT as a lump sum.
You fund this trust with cash or appreciated assets—and receive an immediate federal income tax charitable deduction. Each year the trust pays you or another named individual the same dollar amount you choose at the start. When the trust terminates, the remaining principal goes to UT as a lump sum.
A beneficiary designation clearly identifies how specific assets will be distributed after your death.
A charitable gift annuity involves a simple contract between you and UT where you agree to make a gift to UT and we, in return, agree to pay you (and someone else, if you choose) a fixed amount each year for the rest of your life.