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DU Alumnus and Former Trustee Establishes Leadership Academy Scholarship and Programming

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Joseph and Sharon Saunders establish the Saunders Leadership Academy for Undergraduate Students

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Joseph Saunders
Joseph Saunders

The University of Denver and Chancellor Rebecca Chopp today announced the establishment of The Saunders Leadership Academy. Former University of Denver Trustee and Former Chairman and CEO of Visa Inc., Joseph (Hon. Ph.D. ’09, MBA ’68, BSBA ’67) and his wife Sharon Saunders, generously contributed $5 million to establish the new Academy, which will provide funding for need-based scholarships and programming support for undergraduate students at the University. This gift is the largest endowed gift in support of scholarships to the University in its history.

“At the University of Denver we seek to create access and opportunities for all students,” said Chopp. “It is not enough to just get them in the door, we must see them through and provide them with the support they need to become the next generation of leaders. I am very grateful to Joe and Sharon for their generous support of this mission.”

The Saunders Leadership Academy, created with the philanthropy of Joseph and Sharon Saunders, includes traditional financial aid support, coupled with personal and pre-professional leadership and growth training, family engagement and support along with structured mentorship and internship opportunities. The Saunders Leadership Academy at DU is a signature innovation program, dreamed about in the DU IMPACT 2025 vision, and will set the Saunders Scholar experience apart.

“I believe that my experiences at the University of Denver greatly contributed to my successes both in my personal and my business life,” Saunders said. “And so my wife and I are pleased, and excited, to partner with the University of Denver to open this door and offer young motivated students this wonderful opportunity to receive the leadership training and experience they need to build their future careers.”

Saunders Scholars will represent diverse backgrounds and experiences, come from across the country, and enhance the fabric and culture of the University, one of our top priorities is to increase access to our distinctive, innovative educational experience with scholarships and financial aid for those with financial need. This new programmatic cohort of students will be complemented by cross-University support — a network of students, faculty and staff who can nurture, mentor and support our students throughout their journey.

Saunders Gift

“We are incredibly grateful to Joe and Sharon for their visionary generosity that will help DU to realize our bold dream of providing a comprehensive and supportive DU experience for students,” said Armin Afsahi, Vice Chancellor for Advancement.

Joseph P. Saunders received his undergraduate degree in Management in 1967, and went on to receive an MBA from the University of Denver in 1968. In 2009, he received an Honorary Doctorate from the University in recognition of his significant professional achievements. Saunders is the retired Chairman of Visa, Inc. He and his wife Sharon are passionate and ardent supporters of the University of Denver, Teach for America, and numerous other organizations that ensure opportunity to future generations. The Saunders Scholars are the embodiment of the Saunders’ family commitment in the promise inherent in a generation of students, and the Saunders family believes that making an investment in the lives of deserving and capable students can be the difference between stagnation and success.

To read more about alumni weekend and this year's alumni awards, please click here.