Record-breaking $10M gift advances STEM, business at Asbury University

Published 10:11 am Wednesday, September 16, 2020

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Dr. Walt and Rowena Shaw, founders of Avanti Polar Lipids, Inc., broke Asbury University’s record for the largest single gift in the school’s 130-year history when they donated $10 million to Asbury’s Ignited Campaign in August.

Avanti, an Alabama-based company specializing in lipid products, including a pharmaceutical-grade product used in COVID-19 vaccine research, recently sold to an international health care company and, as alumni of Asbury and co-chairs of the Ignited Campaign since 2014, the Shaws set aside part of their profits to enhance the university that gave them their start.

The generous gift completes funding for a new Collaborative Learning Center on Asbury’s campus, allowing the university to begin construction debt-free on the state-of-the-art facility that will unite Asbury’s STEM programs with the Howard & Beverly Dayton School of Business.

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The Shaws designated $500,000 of their gift for the Science and Health department within Asbury’s School of Science, Health and Mathematics.

“This gift will immediately reach across the STEM programs at Asbury,” said Dr. Vins Sutlive, dean of the School of Science, Health and Mathematics. “It will provide scholarships for recruiting top students, a summer research institute for faculty and majors, and instruments to improve both laboratory and research experiences. It will facilitate the transition of STEM programs to the Collaborative Learning Center. We are privileged to act as stewards of Dr. and Mrs. Shaw’s investment in the School of Science, Health & Mathematics.”

The six-year Ignited Campaign ended in June 2020, raising more than $83 million on a $62 million goal and funding not only the Collaborative Learning Center but numerous enhancements to other facilities on campus, as well as establishing 93 new student scholarships.

“Few people ever get this opportunity,” Walt Shaw said about their gift. “We’re in this position because of what I encountered at Asbury.”

Both he and his wife are also familiar with the fundraising vision that their philanthropic investment will affect.

Rowena Shaw said supporting Asbury’s mission of equipping students to impact the world for Christ is a natural choice.

“What else would we want to do with our money but grow the Kingdom of God?” she said. “Putting God first – there’s no other way to live.”

With construction expected to begin this fall, the $26 million, fully funded Collaborative Learning Center will provide state-of-the-art facilities and technology for students in STEM and business programs at Asbury.

Additionally, collaborative space for students and faculty across all disciplines and space for conferences and special events will be included.

The Shaws’ $10 million gift closed the gap to make this possible and will be remembered as it continues to advance the university that introduced them to each other and gave them the tools to grow their company into a multi-million-dollar venture impacting the world.

“I want Asbury to be an education for the future – the best programs populated by the best faculty and staff providing students with the best formative intellectual and spiritual experience in the country,” Asbury President Dr. Kevin J. Brown said. “The Ignited Campaign and construction of the Collaborative Learning Center elevates important future-centric programs by providing 21st century teaching and learning spaces for our students. This relates not only to science and business, but also to our liberal arts curriculum and to collaborative, interdisciplinary efforts across campus.”

Asbury University is a nationally ranked Christian liberal arts institution located in Wilmore with 15 academic departments offering more than 150 undergraduate areas of study, along with graduate degrees and certification programs in business administration, media communication and education and an adult degree completion program.

More than 22,000 living alumni surround the globe, leading and serving in all 50 states and at least 80 nations.

For more information on Asbury University, visit