As a first-generation college student, Mary Armstrong Meduski ’80, P ’18 credits scholarship as fundamental to her ability to get a Cornell education.
“Cornell is the place where I gained my confidence,” she said. “It’s the place where I understood that I can accomplish whatever it is that I set out to do.”
Meduski is now a longtime Cornell leader who created the Cornell Women’s Leadership Challenge, a special opportunity to bring donors to Cornell’s Annual Funds for Cornell’s 9th Giving Day on March 16, 2023.
When 600 donors give $1,000 or more as part of Giving Day to any Cornell Annual Fund, Meduski has pledged to donate $100,000 to the Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Scholarship Annual Fund.
“I realize, especially with the passage of time, what a gift a Cornell education was for me,” Meduski said. “There’s a time in your career and your life where you should start paying it forward.”
Earning a bachelor’s degree in biology, Meduski said that the life skills she learned at Cornell enabled her to keep investing in herself—even if it meant beginning again. After attending business school and holding roles in investment banking, she eventually found her place as a CFO in telecommunications and media companies.
“Along the way, I focused very intently on promoting the career development of the women around me,” Meduski said.
Fellow challengers Peggy Koenig ’78, P ’14 and Sharlyn Carter Heslam ’91, P ’26 share Meduski’s drive to lead by example, and together will give a total of $150,000 toward undergraduate scholarships, financial aid, and the student experience when the 600-donor goal is reached.
While endowed giving is critical too, the current-use nature of annual funds makes a big difference in near-term objectives and permits crucial flexibility.
“You see your dollars go to work with immediacy, and it allows the dean and the school to have discretion in terms of the way they will utilize their funds,” Koenig said.
Part of Heslam’s drive for philanthropy, and giving back to Cornell, is to allow other young women to find the same opportunities she was afforded from her time on the Hill.
“I arrived not knowing much at all and soaking it all in. I feel like the people that I met, the classes I took, the experiences I had there really opened up a world of possibilities that I didn’t have on my radar,” said Heslam.
Likewise, she is passionate about women being seen as active participants in philanthropy, and getting credit for their extraordinary efforts.
“Women are givers, too, and it’s important to show that philanthropy comes from many different avenues,” agreed Koenig. “No matter how big or how small, it’s important to have an impact.”
As a mentor and sponsor of women throughout her career, Meduski is particularly drawn to encouraging women to give back.
“Research shows that women philanthropists donate to causes that mean something to them, that speak to them directly. A goal of our challenge is to make giving to Cornell a lifetime cause,” said Meduski.
She continued: “If you feel your education is an asset to you, if you feel your time on the Hill was important and you want the university to be a better place… then we are all responsible to chip in for that goal. In order to do the greatest good, we have to try to do the greatest good individually.”
Mary Armstrong Meduski ’80, P ’18 is the national chair for the Cornell Annual Funds, a member of the Cornell University Board of Trustees, chair of the Finance Committee, and a member of the Executive and Audit, Risk and Compliance Committees. She serves on the To Do the Greatest Good Campaign Cabinet Committee, and is also a member of the President’s Council of Cornell Women, and the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Advisory Council.
Challenger Peggy Koenig ’78, P ’14 serves as co-vice chair on the Cornell University Board of Trustees, campaign co-chair, chair of the Executive Committee, and member of the President’s Council of Cornell Women. She also serves on the Cornell Tech Advisory Council, Brooks School of Public Policy Advisory Council, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Advisory Committee, and the Cornell University Council.
Challenger Sharlyn Carter Heslam ’91, P ’26 is a member of the Campaign Cabinet Committee, the Cornell University Council, and the President’s Council of Cornell Women. She serves as the Cornell Annual Funds representative for the Class of 1991.