It’s about access: Commitment from Allen family helps under-resourced, under-represented Trulaske students

Pinney Allen and Buddy Miller, standing together outside

Pinney Allen graduated from University of Missouri High School in 1972 before moving on to study economics at Harvard University. She and Miller are not MU alumni, but they share a passion for supporting initiatives that benefit students in need.

William “W.D” Allen has dedicated much of his career to investing in the future. In a former life, Allen (B.S. BA ’90; Ph.D. ’06) worked as a fixed-income manager, a real estate developer and a small business owner. After earning his doctorate in 2006, he stayed on at MU for 10 years at the Trulaske College of Business as an assistant teaching professor, known to go out of his way to counsel a student in need.

In retirement, he serves as an adjunct member of the faculty in the Trulaske Department of Finance and as coordinator of the Allen Angel Capital Education Program (AACE), overseeing a class of 16 students, undergrads and graduate students from all business disciplines, as they gain first-hand experience investing in Missouri start-up companies. Often, he can be found in his Cornell Hall office, eager to help foster the business leaders of tomorrow.

“He’s an amazing individual, committed to the students’ success,” says Mary Beth Marrs, Trulaske’s Director of Enrichment Programs & Strategic Initiatives and Harry M. Cornell, Jr. Director of the Cornell Leadership Program. “He’s the type of professor who figures out how to make things happen.”

So, it was natural that when W.D Allen’s sister, Pinney Allen, and her husband, Charles “Buddy” Miller III— both longtime financial supporters of higher education and Mizzou, in particular — approached him with an idea that would help ensure that all students would have an opportunity to go to college and succeed, the professor was instantly on board. “The purpose of the university is to educate and improve the quality of life for its attendees,” he says. “Encouraging students is the reason we’re here."

Image: W.D. Allen
W.D Allen

The idea is now reality. The Allen Access Program is a $5-million umbrella initiative to help under-resourced and under-represented students in the Trulaske College of Business. Much of that money will funnel to programs and scholarships within Trulaske that are already up and running, with the goal of building a community of peers and providing the students with the resources they need to be successful. The initiative was designed to be more comprehensive in scope.

“It’s not just about scholarships,” Miller says. “Sometimes it’s buying a laptop, having the right suit for a job interview or just knowing what is available. Everybody should have a chance.”

Part of the funding will also go toward outreach in rural Missouri and hard-to-reach areas of St. Louis and Kansas City, where students may grow up not realizing that certain opportunities exist. “A lot of these kids may not have thought of college as an option at all,” says Pinney Allen, a lawyer and Harvard graduate who grew up in Columbia and graduated from the University of Missouri High School. “They certainly haven’t considered the state’s flagship university as a possibility.”     

But more than anything, the Allens and Miller hope that this initiative is a jump start for future giving from other individuals and organizations. Social inequality, particularly that experienced by racial and ethnic minorities and lower-income individuals, has become a front-and-center topic of public discourse. And many stakeholders believe a key to equal opportunity is access to higher education and a clear pathway to a degree.

“We’re doing this to be catalysts,” Miller says. “The hope is that this is something that others will contribute to. I think people recognize that equality is a bigger issue than it was 20 years ago. We need to do a better job of educating all our people. We are not the beginning and end of this.”

To that end, Trulaske will raise an additional $12 million over the next 10 years to benefit the Allen Access Program, one of the largest commitments of its kind at Mizzou.  And the Allens’ seeds have already started to produce — Ernst & Young LLP (EY US), a member firm of the global professional services organization EY, announced a $375,000 gift to create the EY Fund for Diversity and Inclusion at the college.

“It’s all about access,” Marrs says. “We want to level the playing field and provide students with the things they need to be successful. We also want to create a more inclusive environment on campus in which under-resourced students can see there are students just like them. Often they don’t have a lot of confidence. Just having someone help them with that and show them that this is a place for them, where they can grow and thrive, is crucial.”

The Allens and Miller don’t just see inclusion as a moral imperative. They also believe a multitude of voices and perspectives provides a better environment for learning in the classroom and a more well-rounded approach to business in the real world.

And for many of these under-resourced students and their families and communities, attending college provides a better opportunity for lifelong success.

“These are qualified students who are at a point when they might go down one path or another,” says W.D Allen. “If we can do anything to encourage them down the path that leads to a better life, that would be beneficial to everyone.”