Major Planned Gift to Women in Philanthropy Endowment
By Mariel Jungkunz
When Mary Frances Bryja's parents encouraged her to attend college as a first-generation student, they had no way of knowing how far her educational path would take her-and how many other paths it would help pave.
But the lessons her late parents Joe, a coal miner, and Hedy, a factory cutter and trimmer, imparted regarding the value of higher education were deeply ingrained in her.
So much so that Bryja has made a successful career in student affairs, admissions and college counseling, helping fulfill the college dreams of countless students along the way. Today, she is the director of college counseling at the Bullis School in Potomac, Md.
Additionally, her appreciation for higher education, and Ohio University in particular, have inspired her to give a $1 million bequest to Ohio University's Women in Philanthropy (WIP) Endowment. It is the largest gift to date received by WIP.
The gift will allow WIP to promote financial literacy, philanthropic education advocacy, leadership and volunteerism, while fostering a powerful tradition of giving among Ohio University alumnae.
"My parents always stressed giving: You give, and you volunteer," Bryja says. "What God has given you, you give back in whatever form you can give.
"The work WIP does is extremely beneficial, especially the work with young women," she adds.
Among other initiatives targeting young women, WIP sponsors a New Leader program to engage alumnae within 15 years of graduation. New alumnae may give to WIP at a reduced pledge to encourage their involvement in philanthropy.
"Mary Frances wants to inspire others to give back and her gift will accomplish this," says Ohio University Director of Development Dorothy Schey. "We are honored to receive this major gift, which will increase our level of support to students and the university. Women in Philanthropy is another door to Ohio University and we are very pleased that Mary Frances stepped through to connect and network with WIP Friends. Her transformational gift will inspire others to give back to Ohio University, wherever they choose-colleges, units, projects or initiatives.
Bryja graduated from Ohio University in 1998 with a doctorate degree in college student personnel services. Originally from Portage, Pa., she fell in love "instantly" with the campus and describes her doctoral program as an enriching experience.
"I absolutely loved every minute of it," Bryja says, adding that her graduate associateship in the student affairs office solidified her connection to the university. "It made me feel like such a part of the campus community."
Bryja has served as dean of admissions at Duquesne University and assistant director of admissions at Mount Aloysius College. While she admits she still misses Ohio University, she is also part of a close-knit community at her current position with the Bullis School.
As they guide students through the time-consuming college application process, she and her college counseling staff become a constant part of their lives, sharing in their daily joys and tribulations. "Students get a good sense of trust with us, and they build on that trust," she says.
Bryja enjoys introducing students to new schools worth considering, including her alma mater. In her first year at Bullis School, she encouraged a young woman to visit Ohio University during a scheduled trip to Miami. The glowing report? "She poked her head in my door, and she said, 'I loved it. ? My entire family just fell in love with OU.'
"And she had just the most amazing four years there," Bryja adds, offering yet another example of how her own education is a gift that keeps on giving.