Helping Non-Traditional Students Succeed


Dee Giannamore and Joe Fengler ’89

For both Dee Giannamore and her son Joe Fengler ’89, higher education was the key to the lives they wanted to lead. Dee was a single parent who put herself through college while raising her son. Overcoming numerous challenges, she graduated and went on to a highly successful career. She worked for several Fortune 500 firms in financial management positions, and traveled the world as a top financial executive for World Vision International.  

When Joe came of age, Dee supported him while he attended University of La Verne. Mother and son both speak very fondly of Joe’s alma mater. “I was delighted when Joe picked a small, private university,” Dee says. “I could see him change and grow during the time he was there, thanks to all the personal attention he got from professors and the community. He would not have gotten that attention if he’d gone to a large state school.” 

Joe agrees wholeheartedly, so much so that he now serves on the university’s Board of Trustees. After graduating with a degree in political science in 1989, he went on to complete two master’s degrees and worked in the federal government for 15 years before settling into his current position as Vice President of Government Relations at Honeywell International.  

Dee and Joe both wanted to give back to the university, and they put a lot of thought into how best to do it. In the end, they didn’t just make a simple gift, they created the Small, Great Things Endowed Scholarship Fund for CAPA (Campus Accelerated Program for Adults) Students. Named after a well-known Martin Luther King, Jr. quote, Small, Great Things specifically addresses the challenges that are often faced by CAPA students, who must balance their education with family, work, and other responsibilities, as Dee did.  

“With my mother’s experience of going back to school, I always had a deep appreciation for those who had to go back to school for whatever reason to finish their education,” says Joe. As a University of La Verne trustee, Joe learned about CAPA students who couldn’t finish due to sudden expenses that came up in the course of life, such as child care or car maintenance. Often this meant that the students were only a few thousand dollars short on their tuition payments, and sadly, the vast majority of scholarship funds are targeted to traditional undergraduate students.   

“Non-traditional students are critical to the university,” Joe asserts. “Their experience is no less important than that of traditional undergraduates.” 

When Dee learned about this situation, it happened to be close to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and she immediately thought of his quote: “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” She and Joe put their heads together to fine-tune the details of their gift. 

To establish the scholarship, Dee and Joe gifted cash and securities, allowing funds to begin helping students right away. Dee also made an IRA rollover gift towards the scholarship, which reduced her taxable income while helping her satisfy required minimum distributions for her IRA account. Dee says making the IRA gift was as easy as calling her broker. To ensure the scholarship will have a “forever impact,” Dee made another gift towards the scholarship through her living trust. 

“That’s an exciting thing for me, to be able to give scholarships right now, even as we’re building the endowment, so we can hear from people that we’ve helped,” Dee says proudly. “Small, Great Things isn’t about Joe or me, it’s about the people who receive funds that help them get their degree and keep going. Their stories are just so compelling.” 

Learn more about bequests and qualified charitable distribution (QCD) gifts.