The Cornell Club of Oregon and Southwest Washington (CCORSW) established a scholarship in 1980 to help students from Oregon meet the costs of higher education. Over the past 43 years, the CCORSW scholarship has grown to a market value of $3 million, the largest endowment of any Cornell Club in the country. The payout from the endowment exceeds $100,000 annually—enough to provide scholarships for all Cornell students from Oregon who have unmet need.
Austin Heiman ’11 grew up in Portland, Oregon, and never imagined that he’d travel nearly 3,000 miles across the country to attend Cornell. His best friend in high school, Mac Bishop ’11, came from a Cornell family, and Mac’s father Mort Bishop ’74, encouraged Austin to apply.
In February 2007, Austin took his first trip to the East Coast, traveling with Mac to visit Cornell.
“We arrived at night, and it was probably 10 degrees and snowing sideways. It was crazy: cold, dark, and snowy,” Austin recalls.
“What struck me was just how big the campus was, but also how many different focal points there were. There was a state-of-the-art engineering school, there were massive sports facilities, there was the beautiful Arts Quad. They had a focal point for whatever you wanted to focus on or whatever passion you wanted to pursue.”
Austin was sold, but when he received his acceptance letter, he realized that Cornell would be a heavy lift for his family financially. When his financial aid package arrived, Austin noticed that alongside his Cornell grant, he had received another scholarship from the Cornell Club of Oregon and Southwest Washington (CCORSW).
Austin had no prior knowledge of the scholarship, and the additional support was a godsend to his family. Two years later, Austin’s younger brother Colby Heiman ’13 was accepted to the Cornell Hotel School.
“The aid we received was extremely generous and allowed us to go—without my parents having to stretch beyond their abilities,” Austin says.
Austin knew that his friend’s father, Mort, was a loyal Cornellian and an active alumnus (he served as a university trustee from 2000–2008, and as chair of the CCORSW scholarship committee for the past 43 years). But Austin never knew that Mort was instrumental in establishing the Oregon scholarship that he and his brother received—until now.
Passing the baton
Mort’s Cornell story started with his godmother, Eloise Conner Bishop ’34. She told Mort that Cornell was the only Ivy League school that accepted women at that time. He recalls her talking fondly about Ithaca, Cayuga Lake, and her experience at Cornell.
“My dad always dreamed of me going to Dartmouth,” Mort admits. “I visited Cornell in my senior year of high school and fell in love with the campus. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew with the depth and diversity of courses at Cornell, I would find something of interest to me.”
Mort majored in agricultural economics, a field that helped prepare him to take a leadership role in the family business. When he returned to Oregon from the East Coast, fellow Cornellians invited him to become involved in the local Cornell Club, including Marilyn Ridgley ’57 and Bob Ridgley ’56. Marilyn recruited Mort to serve on the club’s secondary school committee (Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network or CAAAN), working with prospective students.
Through his work with CAAAN, Mort learned that twin students who had been accepted to Cornell were unable to attend due to financial constraints. Their story motivated Mort, a fifth-generation Oregonian and then president of Pendleton Woolen Mills, to try to make Cornell more accessible for local students.
In 1980, Mort established the scholarship, and in the years since, the fund has grown little by little.
“Special individuals like Harry Kieval ’36, Katherine DeWitt ’25, and my godmother Eloise Bishop ’34, became so intrigued with the idea of helping our own Oregon students, they created generous provisions in their estate planning,” Mort explains.
Paying it forward
All of this happened behind the scenes, with no fanfare. As the fund has grown, so has the level of support offered to Oregon-Southwest Washington students. Today, the CCORSW scholarship replaces work-study contributions and loans for recipients. This means that students who receive the scholarship can graduate from Cornell debt-free.
Mort is very proud of this accomplishment.
Words of gratitude from a recent scholarship recipient:
“Where I come from seems to be a lot different than where most students at Cornell come from. I went to a small public high school in Klamath Falls, Oregon. My father did not graduate high school and my mother never made it through college. My mother put everything on the line for me to come here. She picked up a second full-time job and put her life on hold so that I have the opportunity to live mine. Not only am I eternally grateful for this contribution, but so is my mother. She might be a little embarrassed that I am sharing this with you, but she cried when we learned that I had received this scholarship.”
As an Oregonian at Cornell, Mort felt that he helped to bring a sense of diversity to campus. “Oregon and the Northwest was underrepresented at Cornell,” he observes.
Tina Lee ’82, MEng ’83 has chaired the CAAAN committee serving Oregon and Southwest Washington for the past 15 years. She says that about half of the applicants she works with have never traveled to the East Coast. She feels that the scholarship from their home state helps to build a connection to Cornell and to local Cornellians.
“The scholarship helps to build that relationship, that ongoing lifelong relationship—not only with the students, but with their families too,” Tina says.
Mort estimates that the CCORSW scholarship has supported about 25 Oregon students each year over the past four decades. He treasures the annual thank you letters he receives from recipients.
“I think this scholarship gives them a warm feeling. Knowing that people in their community have been impacted enough by the Cornell experience that they want to pass it along to the next generation, this is the Cornell tradition,” Mort says.
Coming full circle
Austin agrees. The CCORSW scholarship he received allowed him to graduate from Cornell without any loan obligations. When asked how this has impacted him, Austin responded in a way that surprised even Mort.
Although Austin is currently based in Boston where he works for a private equity firm, he still has deep ties to his home state. Like Mort, he felt that, as an Oregonian, he brought a valuable perspective to Cornell.
“Going to Cornell, it was very rare to find people that had come from Oregon, or Idaho, or Montana, or Washington, or any non-major metropolitan area,” Austin says.
“Now that I’m earning enough income to start paying it forward, I’ve been thinking about how to contribute. During my lifetime, I’d like to give back ten times what I took out of the system. I want to start contributing to the Cornell Club of Oregon scholarship to make sure that, you know, other folks are able to have that same opportunity that I had.”
Austin shared his thoughts with Mort, who reached out his Cornell gift officer to help Austin connect the dots and make his giving intention a reality.
“Austin indicated that he would like to start giving back to help the next generation of Oregon students, as he was assisted by those who came before him,” Mort says.
Such is the Cornell tradition that Mort and Austin are passing along.
“When I die,” Mort says, “I want anyone who wants to remember me to donate to the Cornell Club of Oregon scholarship.”