When Mark and Patty Willis learned that they could merge their love for their alma mater, Bucknell University, to their support for TFAS programs, they jumped at the opportunity.
“We’re very excited about TFAS, the important role it plays and the opportunities it presents for students,” said Mark. “When we heard that we could attach [a scholarship] to our school, we thought this would be a great way to get a Bucknell student to attend. It would be fantastic.”
Mark and his wife Patty created a $5,000 TFAS scholarship designated for students from Bucknell University to attend TFAS programs in 2015.
The couple are proud alumni of the university, where they met as students over 37 years ago. “We are just very fond of the school. It’s a great environment. We met a lot of fantastic people who we still keep in touch with to this day,” said Mark. “It’s a really strong alumni network. And the school itself – its academic reputation continues to increase and we both had good experiences.”
It’s a very sharp group of people, and that’s a big part of what has gotten us excited about TFAS – meeting some of these well qualified alumni.”
Now with the creation of a TFAS scholarship, they are hoping to give back by creating new opportunities and experiences for current Bucknell students. “I hope it will give them a much deeper and broader understanding of the free-market system,” said Mark. “We really like the way the program is put together and the key messages that are delivered. We think it’s really important for young people.”
Much of the Willis’ enthusiasm for TFAS can be attributed to the impressive alumni they have met at TFAS conferences and events. In 2012, they went on a 10-day TFAS sponsored Baltic cruise where they sailed from Copenhagen to Stockholm, visiting historic sites of the Cold War and meeting with TFAS alumni along the way. Mark said it was the opportunity to meet with these alumni that really stood out to him about the trip.
He was especially impressed by Ilmars Rimsevics (ICPES 89), a 1989 TFAS alumnus who serves as chairman of the Bank of Latvia and hosted his TFAS guests for a private luncheon at the Central Bank. “It’s a very sharp group of people, and that’s a big part of what has gotten us excited about TFAS – meeting some of these well qualified alumni,” he said.
More recently, Mark and Patty attended the 2014 TFAS Leadership Conference in Naples, Florida where they heard election and political insights from TFAS alumni who played an important role in the 2014 races and the changing political climate across the United States. Among the speakers was TFAS alumnus Will Weatherford (IBGA 02). Weatherford had just termed out as speaker of the Florida House of Representatives and gave an encouraging speech about the economic and education changes he’s worked to implement in Florida.
“I think Will Weatherford is a great example of the kind of candidate that can be put up,” said Mark. “He has some great principles, great ideas and has done a good job of implementing them. It was really motivating too to hear from alumni like that.”
As for the future of TFAS, Mark said he is very pleased with the steps the organization is taking to reach high school students through its partner organization, the Foundation for Teaching Economics (FTE). In June, he audited an FTE session at Yale University where high school students were playing an educational game to build their own market. “I thought that was really interesting and well done,” said Mark. “It’s not like you are forcing a conservative agenda on anyone, they are just educating them about how the free market really works. Once you learn that, it’s kind of easy to see through the progressive arguments.”
Mark and Patty reside in Simsbury, Connecticut and recently celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary. They have two sons, Scott, also an alumnus of Bucknell University, and Brett, who graduated from Colby College in Maine.
If you know a Bucknell University student who might benefit from a scholarship to attend TFAS programs, please contact Director of Recruitment and Admissions Mary Stankus at mstankus@TFAS.org or 202.986.0384.
To learn how you can sponsor a TFAS scholarship designated for your alma mater, contact Vice President of Development Ed Turner at eturner@TFAS.org or 202.986.0384.