SRU receives record $2 million estate gift to support RockTEACH program



Slippery Rock University faculty and students hosted high school students interested in teaching careers on campus as part of the RockTEACH program’s Summer Institute. SRU recently received a record $2 million donation that supports student scholarships and operations for RockTEACH.

Feb. 27, 2024

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Slippery Rock University has received its largest-ever planned estate gift that will have an impact in classrooms beyond those at SRU. Dave and Judy Phillips pledged a $2 million bequest that will fund scholarships and programming that support underrepresented minority students pursuing careers as teachers.

Judy Phillips is a 1966 SRU graduate with a degree in education, and she and her husband, Dave, donated $75,000 to establish an endowed scholarship and $25,000 to fund operating experiences for RockTEACH, a program at SRU founded in 2018 that promotes teacher education as a career path for students representing the Black, Indigenous or people of color community, known as BIPOC. Additionally, they committed a $2 million estate gift to ensure long-term support for RockTEACH.

"Supporting our future teachers is so important because when you go on to educate people, you're doing something that will benefit others for the rest of their lives," Dave Phillips said. "We recognize that there is an underserved part of education, and our money will go a long way to helping others."

Dave spoke on behalf of his wife, Judy, because Judy is battling dementia and since 2021 she has lived in a personal care facility near their home in Sugar Land, Texas. The couple, who met as teenagers while growing up in Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania, has lived in Texas for 50 years. Dave spent the majority of his 42-year career as an insurance agent in Texas, after briefly working in Michigan and Ohio, where Judy was a teacher. Although Judy only worked full-time as a teacher for seven years, and substituted for a few years in Texas, the Phillips recognize the importance of teacher education, especially for those from BIPOC communities.

Almost half of students in U.S. public schools are BIPOC, but 80% of teachers are non-Hispanic white.

"Minority teachers are underrepresented in the education system," Dave Phillips said. "We think it's necessary to help recruit and support aspiring minority teachers who might not have the means to pursue their education and become a teacher. If a child is in a class and sees a teacher who looks like them, they are more likely to aspire to be like that teacher."

"We are forever grateful for Dave and Judy Phillips' generous contribution to SRU and our shared support for teacher education," said SRU President Karen Riley. "Providing students greater access to education is at the core of our mission, and one of the many ways we do that is through programs like RockTEACH. Dave and Judy have set a great example for how individuals can make use of their resources to provide opportunities to students who would not otherwise have the means or inspiration to succeed. Their gift will have an impact for years to come."

RockTEACH has many components, including the recruitment of BIPOC high school students to the field of teaching and support for pre-service teachers at SRU. Programming includes an "Education Major for a Day" event where high school students experience campus life and meet with RockTEACH student ambassadors, as well as a Summer Institute where SRU faculty and ambassadors visit communities and meet with teachers, administrators and students from partner schools to offer professional development and explore new ideas and, of course, build relationships.

"The heart of the RockTEACH Program is relationship-building," said Linda Zane, SRU professor of elementary education and early childhood, who is one of the RockTEACH program directors. "Our success thus far has been evident in the deep relationships that aid in the recruitment and persistence of teacher education students. Through partnerships with urban schools, relationships are developed with BIPOC students in order to introduce them to the field of teaching. We provide opportunities for them to engage in activities around the field of education and college life in general."

More information about RockTEACH is available on the SRU website. To learn more about bequests or donating to the University, contact University Advancement at 724.738.2004 or email

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 |