(Photo: Irvin and Lois Cohen, left, pose for a photograph with Dr. R. Keith Hillkirk, chancellor for Penn State Berks, center and Dena and Victor Hammel after an announcement of a combined $3 million gift from the couples Wednesday at the Gaige Technology and Business Innovation Building: Photo: Kathryn Quinn, Penn State Berks.)
READING, Pa. — With a transformational joint gift to Penn State Berks, two Penn State alumni couples have launched a comprehensive new scholarship program and raised the bar for private giving to the campus. The $3 million gift from Irvin and Lois Cohen and Victor and Dena Hammel—one of the largest ever to the campus—will create the Cohen-Hammel Fellows Program for outstanding Penn State Berks undergraduates. In addition to providing participants with significant scholarships, the program will prepare students for leadership within the Reading community and beyond.
“The Cohen-Hammel Fellows Program will prepare some of our most talented students to become leaders of principle at our University, in their careers, and in their communities,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “We are fortunate that Irv and Lois Cohen and Vic and Dena Hammel have chosen to make this innovative program a reality through their visionary philanthropy.”
The Cohen-Hammel Fellows Program will be designed to prepare students to become engaged and ethical leaders in the twenty-first century. Each year, a cohort of outstanding undergraduates across all academic disciplines will receive a combination of scholarship support; mentoring from faculty and community leaders; and educational opportunities such as undergraduate research, travel, and service within the Reading community. Cohen-Hammel Fellows will continue to participate in the program until they graduate.
“The Cohen-Hammel Fellows Program will enhance our ability to recruit and retain outstanding students at Penn State Berks, which will in turn elevate the climate of our entire campus,” said Penn State Berks Chancellor R. Keith Hillkirk. “As one of the largest gifts ever to Penn State Berks, the Cohens’ and Hammels’ support also elevates our understanding of what is possible through private philanthropy.”
Through “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” the University’s current fundraising campaign, Penn State will provide $1.25 million in matching funds to enhance the impact of the Cohens’ and Hammels’ support and endow the Cohen-Hammel Fellows Program at $4.25 million. These funds will support the program in perpetuity.
“We are grateful to be able to assist students in attending Penn State as we did, where we met more than fifty years ago,” said Vic and Dena Hammel. “We are extraordinarily impressed with the quality education and experience that Penn State Berks provides, and we believe that the Cohen-Hammel Fellows Program will make that even more accessible to some of our area's brightest students.”
Vic and Dena Hammel, of Wyomissing, are co-chairs of Penn State Berks’ efforts in “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence.” In addition to their gift to support the Cohen-Hammel Fellows Program, the couple have made major gifts to support Penn State Hillel, the Beaver Community Center at Penn State Berks, and need-based scholarships for students at the Berks campus. The Hammels first met as undergraduates at University Park, where Vic studied accounting, and Dena studied speech pathology and audiology. They graduated in 1967 and 1968, respectively. Vic is the chairman of Rentokil Pest Control, North America, and the retired co-owner and CEO of Ehrlich Pest Control. He is a past Board Chair of the Reading Health System and past President of the Jewish Federation of Reading. Dena is a retired dialysis social worker and an active volunteer in the Reading community. She has served on the board of GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in Reading since its inception.
"Penn State is an integral part of our lives. We learned what a true education was and we matured,” said Irv and Lois Cohen. “This is a wonderful opportunity for us, as well as Dena and Vic Hammel, to express our appreciation."
Irv and Lois Cohen, of Reading, earned their Penn State degrees a generation ahead of the Hammels, and they are longtime supporters of their alma mater. Their past gifts have created endowed scholarships for students in the School of Theatre at Penn State University Park and at Penn State Berks, and provided funding for the Cohen Lounge located in the Thun Library at Penn State Berks, among other gifts. Irv and Lois have each served several terms on the Berks Advisory Board. Irv holds a degree in arts and letters from the College of the Liberal Arts (1950), and Lois holds a degree in home economics from the College of Health and Human Development (1949). They are the retired owners of Construction Fasteners, Inc., in Wyomissing.
“We couldn’t be more delighted that we are partnering in this transformative program with our dear friends, Lois and Irv Cohen,” said Vic and Dena Hammel. “In the 47 years we’ve lived in Berks County, the Cohens have been role models to us in philanthropy and as people.”
Private gifts from alumni and friends have been essential to the success of the University’s historic land-grant mission to serve the public good. To fulfill that mission for a new era of rapid change and global connections, “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence” is focused on the three key imperatives of a public university. Private support will keep the doors to higher education open and enable students to graduate on time and on track to success; create transformative experiences on Penn State campuses and around the globe that tap the full potential of Penn Staters to make a difference; and impact the world through discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more, visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.