Stephen and Lisa Bonner were among the earliest members of the Parent and Family Leadership Council (PFLC), established in 2007. The PFLC is an advisory committee of parent leaders who assist development and outreach to College parents. Members of the PFLC meet twice a year on campus and make annual unrestricted gifts of $5,000 or more to the Parents Fund.
The Bonners joined the PFLC during their son Mark’s first year, and served as co-chairs his senior year, 2010–11. During the Bonners’ tenure at the PFLC, they made two generous gifts to the College: one establishing a named Odyssey Scholarship, the other in support of international education.
Steve, president and CEO of Cancer Treatment Centers of America, and Lisa, an attorney, spoke to the College Newsletter about their involvement in the PFLC and why they chose to invest in the College.
Why did you join the Parent and Family Leadership Council?
Steve: We saw it as a way to support both Mark and the University. As part of joining the Council, we made a commitment to giving additional financial support to the College.
We live in Chicago, but until Mark discovered the University of Chicago as an option for him, we hadn’t had a lot of exposure to it. As Mark looked into it, we realized what an amazingly under-told story it is. We thought we might be able to make a modest difference in the University’s growing success.
Lisa: Both of us are absolute believers in the value of education and in giving back. We are also well aware that any great educational institution can’t pay its bills with tuition alone.
How has the PFLC evolved since you joined?
Steve: When we first got involved, the PFLC had just been established, and there were perhaps 15 or 20 members. Now there are about 50. These are all parents who have a strong interest in the University and also have the means and time to provide special support.
What have been the most rewarding aspects?
Lisa: Getting to meet some of the professors and administrators and to really understand the school. We also enjoyed meeting other parents and talking with them about why their children chose UChicago. We hate the attitude that the University of Chicago is “where fun goes to die.” We didn’t send our son there to have his fun die. And it didn’t. He joined a fraternity, played men’s tennis, and made a lot of great friends.
Steve: As PFLC members, we were able to meet with Dean [John W.] Boyer and President [Robert J.] Zimmer, who explained some of the opportunities there are to give additional support, to keep the University’s momentum going. It was very rewarding to hear about priorities directly from them.
We also attended mock classes held especially for the Parent and Family Leadership Council. I appreciate the College’s commitment to the core curriculum. During my undergraduate years at Amherst, we had a similar shared curriculum. But my college, like so many others, has abandoned that. Now our son, who’s marking time before he goes to law school, is drawn to the University’s Master of Liberal Arts program as an interim step, because he enjoyed his exposure to the Core so much.
Your first gift to the College established a named Odyssey Scholarship. Why did you choose to support Odyssey?
Lisa: To go to a great school like the University of Chicago is expensive. We wanted to make funds available for great students.
Steve: Both of us depended on scholarships to get through college and law school. Whatever we’ve been able to achieve tracks back to those experiences. So we wanted to be able to give back to kids in the same circumstances.
What were your own undergraduate experiences?
Lisa: I went to a local university on a four-year scholarship. It was right where I lived; I didn’t really go looking for other schools. Then I applied to law school there after winning a scholarship. I was probably fairly naïve, but it worked out very well.
Steve: I went to Amherst on a partial scholarship. I worked all the way through college—I always had some kind of job. Then I wound up going to the William Mitchell College of Law in Minneapolis, my hometown, and again worked my way through school.
Your most recent gift helped expand the University’s academic offerings in Paris. Why did you choose to support international study?
Lisa: The quarter that our son spent studying in Paris was probably his favorite part of his College experience. I didn’t have an opportunity to go overseas as an undergrad. I would have liked that very much—I study French today. As the world becomes more and more global, study abroad is so important.
Steve: If you have modest means, it’s a hurdle just to get to college. Then it’s another hurdle to have an experience overseas. We think it’s such an essential part of the educational process and preparation for the world they’re going to live in. Nobody should walk out of the University of Chicago having missed out on studying abroad because they didn’t have the financial means.
How else do PFLC members support College students?
Lisa: Many of the parents on the PFLC were able to provide internships for College students through the Metcalf program. Steve’s company has offered Metcalfs, as have a lot of the other PFLC parents. It helps both the student and the company.
Steve: For parents working in organizations who are looking for talent, it’s a great way to get on the inside track.
Why should other parents get involved in the PFLC?
Steve: Serving on the PFLC offers a direct window into what’s going on at the College. It gives parents the opportunity to think, what else might we want to do to support it? Even though we don’t have a child in the College anymore, we’re still somewhat involved.
Lisa: You don’t often get a chance like this: to work so closely with an unbelievably great institution.
Illustration by Matthew Elliott