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Pioneering New Pathways for Equity in STEM

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Meghan Franklin

Advancement Writer

Alumna Joan Ritzenthaler endows E-STEM scholarship fund that honors her father’s DU legacy.

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Three students work together on a telescope

Seattle-based alumna Joan Ritzenthaler (BA ’71) has lived all over the United States, from Alaska to Minnesota to the East Coast. She also spent two years living in Hungary as a Peace Corps volunteer with her late husband.

“I have a bit of wanderlust,” she says, noting she has plans to go to South Africa later this year.

Still, for all the travel she does, Denver holds a special place in her heart. 

Joan Ritzenthaler

Ritzenthaler’s family moved to Denver when her father, Clint Kelley, accepted a job at the University of Denver. He was a beloved professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry until his retirement in 1971.

For Ritzenthaler, being the child of a DU professor came with the extraordinary benefitof having most of her tuition discounted. She says she knows how fortunate she was to get a DU education at a fraction of the cost that other students paid.

She has fond memories of her time at DU. “I got to know good people, and I got to learn a lot,” she says. She still keeps in touch with a group of friends from the Alpine Club, which was a meaningful part of her experience here.

Like his daughter, Kelley was also an outdoor enthusiast. In addition to teaching chemistry, he was a volunteer mountaineering instructor and an avid mountain climber. Sadly, he fell to his death in 1982 while climbing a mountain with friends in Washington.

Ritzenthaler’s personal experience with DU and desire to honor her father’s legacy led her to bequest a generous gift to establish the Clint Kelley Endowed Scholarship Fund to provide financial support for undergraduate students who participate in DU’s Equity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (E-STEM) program.

E-STEM’s mission is to nurture the strengths of incoming undergraduates from historically underrepresented backgrounds who elect to major in STEM subjects, helping them successfully transition to the college environment and navigate STEM paths at DU. The program is a partnership of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, the Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science and Academic Affairs.

The Office of Financial Aid and the director of E-STEM will select Clint Kelley Scholars based on demonstrated financial need and academic merit.

Although Ritzenthaler was a social sciences major, her score on a math aptitude test after college landed her a job as a systems engineer at IBM, where she had a long career. She appreciates the work of E-STEM in helping more students succeed.

“As society advances, I think it’s important for everyone, especially those who have faced challenges, to have the opportunity to focus on education,” Ritzenthaler says of her decision to support E-STEM.

Anthea Johnson Rooen, director of E-STEM, echoes this, saying, “Attending DU is expensive, and many of our diverse E-STEM scholars have multiple jobs to cover tuition, as well as the cost of labs and supplies. This scholarship will help defray the cost of attendance and allow E-STEM scholars more time to focus on their course work and professional development related to their STEM major.”

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