VOLUME 22 #2

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Wise investments

Donna Fontana, BE85

Financial leader gives time and money to support eduction

Donna Fontana
Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson
Donna Fontana

ALUMNI | It’s a common scenario across the country: An auditorium of anxious families, a lottery machine and the small handful of balls that have the power to determine the future of every child in the room.

Those lucky few who hear their lottery number called out will gain admission to their city’s best charter schools. The rest will return home, dreams deferred.

It is this scene—captured so viscerally in Waiting for Superman, the 2010 documentary on the shortcomings of the American public school system—that haunts Donna Fontana, BE85.

“The capriciousness of it was both eye-opening and devastating,” she says. “And it got me thinking: What could I do to help?”

Fontana is a leader in the financial industry. With over 25 years of experience, she has worked at UBS/PaineWebber and Merrill Lynch and currently serves as senior vice president of sales at National Financial, a Fidelity Investments Company.

But education has long remained one of her greatest passions.

For the past 15 years, she has sponsored promising inner-city students by covering their tuition at a parochial school and mentoring them through graduation. She is also a volunteer for Citizen Schools, an extended-learning-day program, where she teaches financial literacy to middle school students in East Harlem.

“Teaching is a profoundly difficult and extraordinarily important career,” Fontana says. “And although it is not practical for me to go back to school and become a teacher, I wanted to do more to impact education.”

Looking to her alma mater, Fontana saw a chance to make a difference. In 2011, she made a $100,000 gift to the University of Delaware to establish the Fontana Family Education Scholarship to support undergraduate teacher education majors. In 2013, she pledged $500,000 to create the Fontana Family Graduate Tuition Scholarship in Education.

When discussing her passion, she speaks like the businesswoman she is, referring to students’ futures as “their trajectories” and extolling the long hours teachers spend with their “clients.”

She uses similar language when talking about her gift to UD.

“I wasn’t exposed to UD’s teacher education programs when I was a student,” Fontana says. “But preparing students to be excellent teachers is a product I wanted to invest in.”

And she has—not simply with her financial gift, but also with her time. Fontana is a member of President’s Leadership Council, working with President Patrick Harker to increase public engagement and philanthropic support for the University.

In the past year, she has also hosted a dinner in her Manhattan home for recent UD undergraduates working in New York City schools, meeting alumni and seeing firsthand the quality of a University of Delaware education.

“If we want talent to educate our future, we need to get the best and brightest,” she says. “And these kids are.”

The Fontana Family Graduate Tuition Scholarship also aims to attract promising students to the School of Education, supporting those whose research aims to improve educational practices in the United States.

“I’m not a teacher; I didn’t choose that path,” Fontana says. “But if I can’t do it directly, at least I can take the fruits of my current labor and help those who will.”

Article by Artika Casini, AS05

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