Kathleen O'Connell

Donor highlight: Kathleen O'Connell

Sometimes one person can make all of the difference. Kathleen O’Connell is a shining example.

O’Connell, associate professor of illustration at Herron School of Art and Design, believes that it’s important to pay it forward. That’s why in 2011, her 28th year of teaching at Herron, she decided to establish the Robert O’Connell Memorial Scholarship Endowment, made in memory of her father. Her goal is to benefit a new generation of students, particularly those enrolled in illustration courses at Herron.

“When I was a young girl attending Herron’s Saturday School program, my father used to take me downtown to buy art supplies,” she shared. “Later in high school, we would visit exhibitions at the old Indianapolis Museum of Art when it was located on Herron’s former campus at 16th and Pennsylvania streets.”

Those early trips to arts institutions directly impacted O’Connell’s educational path, where both the arts and sciences played a role. After studying biology at Purdue University, she received a B.A. in Biology from Indiana University (’76), a B.F.A., magna cum laude, in Visual Communications from Herron (’82) and an M.F.A. in Illustration from Syracuse University (’88).

Her artwork is a dazzling display of illustration and watercolor paintings and often offers the viewer an up close examination of the environment at our feet.

It was the support and encouragement of her father that undoubtedly influenced her educational and artistic goals.

“I’m not sure he thought I would actually work in the art field,” she added. “Having lived through the Depression and never having a college degree himself, he didn’t embrace the idea of the arts as a career path. However, once I received my degrees, he whole-heartedly supported me in my decisions. I’m not sure that without his encouragement, I would have ever chosen to become an artist.”

O’Connell plans to pay forward similar encouragement through the newly-endowed scholarship. She sees students every day who could benefit from scholarship support and believes her contribution helps fill a particular niche for students who exhibit outstanding illustration skills.

When I was a young girl attending Herron’s Saturday School program, my father used to take me downtown to buy art supplies . . . I’m not sure that without his encouragement, I would have ever chosen to become an artist.

Kathleen O'Connell

Her support is not entirely a new concept. Since 1994, O’Connell has provided annual, outright scholarships, usually funded through payroll deduction as part of IUPUI’s annual faculty and staff campaign. She shared, “I’ve set a little more aside for the scholarships each year and now, through the ease and convenience of payroll deduction, I can provide support for annual scholarships while building an endowed fund at the same time.”

She hopes to continue contributing to the scholarship in the future, possibly through a provision in her estate plans.

What’s most important to O’Connell is the success of her students and encouraging the spirit of giving to the next generation. From all accounts, she’s illustrating how to make an impact.

Rebekah Crowmer, senior, received the Robert O’Connell Memorial Scholarship last year. She shared, “The award was a surprise to me and was such an honor. It meant something special because I felt a personal sense of support and encouragement knowing a teacher at Herron made it possible.”

She added, “Students enrolled in Herron’s illustration courses are a tight-knit group and consider O’Connell’s classes challenging. Knowing that she believes in us and wants to see us succeed is heartwarming.”

To learn more about creating a scholarship or making a gift in memory or honor of someone special, please contact Kim Hodges, Office of Development, at 317-278-9472 or kshodges@iupui.edu.