The Philanthropy of Charles Merrill, Jr. Ignited Life-Changing Journeys
Our alumni tell us they look back on their study-abroad experiences with thankful hearts. There is deep appreciation for the family, friends, schools, and scholarships that made their journeys possible. In some very special cases, their gratitude is directed to one particular person--in this case, a man who made it a mission to spur positive change and open new worlds through international education.
That man is Charles Merrill, Jr.
Since the late 1950s, in addition to his work as an educator and civil rights activist, the son of the co-founder of Merrill Lynch has offered scholarships to students at historically Black colleges and universities, starting with Spelman and Morehouse Colleges.
Merrill Scholarships can be applied to study abroad programs of the recipient’s choosing. Hundreds of IES Abroad’s own students have come to us with Merrill Scholarships and set off on adventures everywhere from Melbourne, Australia, to Nantes, France. Mr. Merrill’s impact on their education is profound and IES Abroad is proud to call him an official contributor to our diversity initiatives.
While reminiscing on what inspired his study abroad scholarships for African American undergraduates, Mr. Merrill told us, “From my early childhood I [traveled throughout] Europe… London, Paris, Florence, Rome, Switzerland. Then in my teens, this widened to include Germany and Austria, and even Czechoslovakia and a couple of places in Yugoslavia. [I began thinking that] if a trip to Prague, a city no Merrill had ever visited, could help build my independence, it could do the same for Black students and their schools. I developed a strong commitment to Spelman and Morehouse Colleges, [among other] colleges and secondary schools.”
Following in Mr. Merrill's Footsteps
To honor the vision and foresight of Charles Merrill Jr, IES Abroad alumni have established an endowed scholarship fund in his honor that will provide scholarship aid in perpetuity to need-based, underrepresented students studying at IES Abroad Centers worldwide.
The IES Abroad Charles Merrill Jr. Scholarship fund awards up to $2,000 scholarships to one or more students annually. The Merrill scholarship is a key component of the IES Abroad Diversity Initiative. IES Abroad’s commitment to provide access to all students started with its founding in 1950 and continues today. IES Abroad leads the study abroad field with 30% of our 10,000 students coming from racially or ethnically-diverse backgrounds. But this is not enough. There are many more diverse students who want to study abroad and cannot because of financial limitations.
The scholarship provides financial assistance to undergraduate students at Morehouse and Spelman Colleges with financial need attending any IES Abroad program.
Amount: Up to $2,000.
Eligibility: Open to Morehouse and Spelman College students who have been accepted to attend an IES Abroad program.
Discover the journeys of IES Abroad’s Merrill Scholar alumni:
Are you a Merrill Scholar? We’d love to hear your story. Please email alumni@IESabroad.org
Discover the Journeys of IES Abroad’s Merrill Scholar Alumni
Gregory Kemp, Vienna '73-'74
Having never set foot previous outside the state of Georgia, Gregg Kemp, took his first airplane ride from Atlanta to New York, and his second from New York to London. Having missed dinner the first night because the schedule read "dinner at 16:30" which he perceived to be 6:30 p.m. instead of 4:30 p.m., he found his way to a local pub, and met and made his first European friends. From that moment on, Gregg embraced study abroad, learning German, traveling all over Europe, and remaining in Paris the following summer working in a restaurant and teaching English to French businessmen. His academic and professional career would lead him to earn a law degree at Notre Dame University, take up criminal law in private practice, work undercover for the FBI, and practice corporate law for a major pharmaceutical company.
"I never had the opportunity to meet Mr. Merrill, but I am eternally grateful for the amazing opportunity he made possible for me that changed my view of the world and what I could do in it."
Alexandria McBride, Melbourne '07-'08
This Howard University graduate and alumni of the IES Abroad 2007-08 Melbourne program pays it forward. She works for Exxon as an engineer yet remains involved with her university through unique philanthropic endeavor called Engineers Without Borders (EWB). While studying abroad, an experience she calls “untraditional for engineers,” McBride learned of EWB and the work it did to help developing countries around the world. She took the concept back to Howard and has since partnered with needful nonprofits in efforts including establishing a water filtration system in the small Nandi community in Africa.
“You open doors by studying abroad,” says McBride. “It starts with getting people out there… and I think it’s important to support historically Black colleges and universities.” She, along with the other inspiring Merrill Scholars, is dedicated to making sure Mr. Merrill’s legacy lives on. Says McBride, “As a philanthropist, Mr. Merrill built trust to support these institutions. I’ve now made it a point to give back to my school and stress the importance of going abroad.”
To Mr. Merrill, McBride says, “Not only do I want to thank you but I want to pay it forward. I’ve now made it a passion to help others. You’ve made that a possibility.”
Eric Toone, Nantes '05-'06
Recent Merrill Scholar graduates are embarking on what are sure to be successful roads. And they already have positive messages to share. One such individual is Eric Toone, a Morehouse College graduate now in medical school at Columbia University in New York City. His Merrill Scholarship was applied to the IES Abroad program in Nantes, France, in 2005-06.
Toone went to Nantes to learn French, a language he says will help him with the public health work he’d like to do with the African French-speaking population. “Language barriers are huge issues between physicians and patients,” says Toone. “I see it as another disadvantage minority patients face in the health care system, and it strikes me as a major component of disparity in health status. I’d like to work to change that.”
Regarding Mr. Merrill, Toone says, “I formed an emotional connection with the scholarship and Mr. Merrill once I learned of his real-life experiences that opened his mind and heart and made him dedicate himself to reaching out to people less fortunate.”
To Mr. Merrill, Toone says, “Thank you--not only for what you did for me, but everybody you’ve reached out to, and for your dedication to people faced with adversity.”
Djenaba Kendrick, Paris '92-'93
When Djenaba Kendrick, a Spelman College grad, studied with IES Abroad in Paris in 1992-93, her future in international relations began to take flight. She is now a U.S. Diplomat working at the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia, where she is in charge of all American Citizen Services and Visas. Kendrick has worked for the U.S. Department of State for the past 15 years and has worked at U.S. Embassies in Kigali, Rwanda, Nairobi, Kenya, and Caracas.
She says the Merrill Scholarship program was heavily promoted at Spelman and her experience studying abroad significantly impacted her career path. “I was a French major, so initially I wanted to teach college-level French and possibly get a Ph.D. in French,” says Kendrick. “However, once I studied in Paris I knew I wanted to do something more broad in the international relations field. When I returned to Spelman my senior year, I added a minor in International Studies and went on to get my master's in International Affairs from American University’s School of International Service. Being able to live and work abroad in various countries was exactly what I wanted to do.”
To Mr. Merrill, Kendrick says, “Thank you--and I hope you continue to do this scholarship program for years to come. It is so important to keep promoting study abroad programs… they absolutely do shape careers, as was my case.”
Rhea Ricard, Paris '92-'93
An in-house counsel at The Bank of New York Mellon Trust Company, N.A., Ricard says that her experiences studying abroad gave her the confidence and resourcefulness to pursue her law degree and legal career. The Spelman College grad participated in IES Abroad’s 1992-1993 Paris program, where she held a coveted internship at the French Senate. It all paved the way for her post-college education at New York University of Law and work at two law firms and another bank.
“I learned a lot about the world outside of the U.S. during my year abroad that I would not have been able to pick up from newspapers or books,” Ricard enthuses. “The Merrill Scholarship program actively supports studying abroad at a time in students’ lives when they are probably most open to new ideas and philosophies. I met Mr. Merrill, Jr. on Spelman’s campus after I won my scholarship. He seemed to be a very generous person and easy to talk to.”
To Mr. Merrill, Ricard says, “Thank you so much for helping so many college students obtain the financial resources to study abroad. I cannot stress enough how important it is for young people to experience the world outside of the U.S., and if it weren't for this program, many people would not have the opportunity (and possibly the inclination) to do so.”
Gretchen Cook-Anderson, Nagoya '88-'89
Her path of giving echoes Mr. Merrill’s own; she created a study abroad scholarship at Spelman College that benefits students who study on IES Abroad programs. A Spelman College grad, she studied with IES Abroad in Nagoya, Japan, in 1988-89. Since, she has had the distinction of serving as a Japanese language interpreter in select meetings of Cabinet Secretary Jesse Brown, Veterans Affairs.
Cook-Anderson previously worked with IES Abroad to inspire and recruit students to study abroad--namely students of a diverse racial makeup, that come from low-income households, or are first-generation college students. She also attracted and advised students who have otherwise historically faced adversity, like students within the LGBTQ+ community, as well as those with disabilities.
“My mother majored in French as an undergraduate, but had neither the money nor the family support to study abroad in the mid-1960s. The Merrill Scholarship made it possible for me to live my mother’s dream, as well as my own,” says Cook-Anderson.
Gretchen now serves as the Executive Director of Ignite, a nonprofit diversity initiative of parent organization LabCentral in Cambridge, MA.
To Mr. Merrill, Cook-Anderson says, “Thank you again and again for the genuine generosity to Spelman students like me. I am forever inspired by what you have done and have tried in my own small way to emulate that devotion through my own meager scholarship at Spelman that benefits students who study with IES Abroad.”
Jeremy White, Vienna ’88-‘89
Jeremy, now a lawyer in Atlanta, thanks Mr. Merrill as well as his Morehouse Biology professor who strongly encouraged him to apply to spend his Junior year abroad. Even though making the decision to be away from Morehouse for his entire junior year was a difficult one, Jeremy is glad he studied abroad in Vienna. “Studying
in Vienna and traveling throughout Europe (including Eastern Europe just before the end of the Cold War) provided me with a perspective few HBCU students had back
then. Studying abroad allowed me to connect the African history and Western Civilization classes I took at Morehouse with real-world, hands-on experiences throughout Europe, whether in museums, in the classroom or on the street." Jeremy, a music lover, says some of the most memorable highlights of his year abroad include visiting Mozart's birthplace in Salzburg, Austria, and seeing Placido Domingo perform "Otello" in Vienna.
To Mr. Merrill, Jeremy says, "The Merrill Scholarship enriched and literally changed the course of my life. Being immersed in another culture and having the opportunity to contrast and compare cultures based on experience – and not just from a book – was invaluable. Access to that invaluable experience, however, was not free, and your generous scholarship opened that door for me. I am honored to have been a Merrill Scholar and I thank you for the investment you made in my life."
Oliver Sueing, Vienna '71-'72
Oliver's first love was music, and although he was on a Biology/Pre Med track at Morehouse, it was the glee club director that encouraged him to study abroad in Vienna. Making the most of his time here, he joined the Jeuness Core first semester, and then landed a role in 'Showboat' at the school of music in Vienna. Although he has enjoyed a long career in pharma sales working for both Pfizer and Glaxo, his professional avocation has continued to be music. He has performed with "3 Inspirational Tenors" and most recently auditioned with America's Got Talent. He sang at President Jimmy Carter's Inauguration
To Mr. Merrill, Sueing says,"Thank you, Mr. Merrill! Vienna was the most life-changing experience I've ever had!"
Wilbur Suggs, Nantes '70-'71
Wilbur remembers fondly his time in Nantes. He lived with a French family during the first semester and then shared an apartment with two other students during the second semester. After graduation at Morehouse he completed a law degree at Columbia University and was hired by Exxon Corporation and moved to Houston. He has spent most of his career in Houston and currently is in private practice there.
Dr. Roderic Pettigrew, Vienna '70-'71
A year in Vienna launched a vibrant life and career for Roderic Pettigrew who is currently serving as Director of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering at the National Institute of Health. Radiology Today magazine calls Roderic a renaissance man who excels in a wide variety of subjects and fields. In addition to making huge advances in dynamic three dimensional cardiac MR imaging, he travels extensively, enjoys painting, jazz, and skiing -- a skill he picked up in Austria!
"The time I spent in Vienna prepared me to face virtually any future challenge."
William Berry, Durham '68-'69
"I landed in Durham, England as a result of political uprisings in Madrid, where I originally applied. To my benefit, as an English major, I earned credits toward my major and was still able to graduate from Morehouse in four years. Mr. Merrill took a sincere interest in my studies. He encouraged me to study liberal arts. He paid for my trip home and back to Durham when my father died so that I was able to attend the funeral." Bill went on to earn an MA in communications and a PhD in communication research. After 15 years in journalism and corporate communications, he taught adverstiing for 22 years at University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, headed up three departments and served as associate chancellor. He continues to teach a communications class that spends three weeks in the Dominican Republic every year.
Dr. Maxine Hayes, Vienna '67-'68
One of the top students in her Spelman class, Maxine was chosen to be a Merrill Scholar. Barely having left the state of Mississippi before she began her freshman year in college, she had collected postcards from everyone she knew who traveled. "Through IES, I was able to really visit the places I had only known through books and postcards! In Vienna, I developed a love for the arts, and during our mid term break I spent a month working on a kibutz in Israel." She returned to Spelman after study abroad to complete a fifth year and following graduation, many opportunities opened up. She attended medical school in Buffalo, NY, the Havard School for Public Health, and a post graduate medical program at Vanderbilt. She worked for two years at Children's Hospital in Boston, and has spent more than two decades as the Chief Medical Officer for the State of Washington.
Amb. Howard F. Jeter, Nantes '67-'68
A year in Nantes would launch an outstanding career in foreign service for Ambassador Jeter. He served 27 years in the American Foreign Service and retired from the State Department with the rank of Career Minister. He served as Ambassador to Nigeria, the Republic of Botswana and as Special Presidential Envoy to Liberia. Since his retirement he has served as President and CEO of the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation, EVP of GoodWorks International LLC, on countless boards, and received as many awards and recognitions for his work and service.
"Nantes was a very special place. My host family called me "Franc" because "Howard" was too hard to pronounce! Thank you to Mr. Merrill for a scholarship that would chance the course of my life!"
Dr. Shirley F. Marks, Vienna '67-'68
Shirley very much enjoyed her time studying abroad in Vienna and returned home to complete her degree at Spelman College. She was the second African American woman in 23 years to graduate from Harvard Medical School, and then went on to complete a psychiatry residency at McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA. She has been nationally recognized for her efforts to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and for advocacy parity in mental health treatment and access. She has taught at Baylor College of Medicine and at Texas Tech Health Science Center. She has served as the director of Outpatient Drug Treatment at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston. She is semi retired and enjoys traveling internationally.
Helen Carithers, Vienna '66-'67
Now retired, Helen taught high school math and science to scores of students at the Benjamin E. May Science and Math Academy in the Atlanta area. Her students have gone on to Harvard, MIT and other top colleges and universities. A graduate of Spelman, Ms. Carithers attended the Vienna program after she graduated and then went on to earn a Masters degree in education from Vanderbilt. Her experiences in Vienna led to a teaching assistanship at Vanderbilt.
"I never had a chance to meet Mr. Merrill, but I am so thankful for the scholarship he made possible!"
John O. Hodges, PhD, Nantes '66-'67
A year in Nantes led John Hodges to a keen interest in comparative literature and eventually a PhD in Literatures and Religion from the University of Chicago. Now retired, John spent most of his career as a Professor in the Department of Religion at the University of Tennessee.
"Nantes was the best year of my life. It gave me the confidence to feel that I could accomplish anything anywhere if I put my mind to it!"
Benjamin F. Ward, PhD, Paris '66-'67
A native French speaker, whose parents were both teachers, Benjamin embraced learning from an early age and entered Morehouse in what would have been his senior year in high school. Because of his fluency, he was able to take classes at the Sorbonne in Paris in a number of disciplines and continue his music studies. "Mr. Merrill took a special interest in me and made available to me tickets to a variety of cultural events as well as the ability to practice the organ in the historic Saint-Germaine-des-Pres church. In Paris I learned the difference between academic performance and intellectual engagement, and that has served me so well throughout my life." Benjamin went on to earn a PhD at Yale where he taught for a few years, and has enjoyed a long career as a faculty in residence at Duke University.
"Emulating what Charles Merrill Jr modeled for me, I have enjoyed the opportunity to pay-it-forward and help a number of young men through their college careers."
Willie F. Vann, PhD, Vienna '66-'67
From a young age, Willie aspired to be a scientist, so study abroad in Vienna opened his mind to many new experiences and academic disciplines that he never would have taken the time to study while at Morehouse College. "I realized when I was in Italy on a business trip some years ago that many people I traveled with did not know anything about the history ancient buildings in Rome. My IES experience really broadened my education." Willie went on to complete a PhD in biochemistry at Purdue University. As a research scientist, he has worked for the Food and Drug Administration and for the NIH where he is currently serving as the Chief of Laboratory of Bacterial Polysaccharides. He completed postdoctoral work at the Max Planck Institute for Immunobiology in Freiburg, Germany, at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, MD, and taught at the University of Ife in Ile-Ife, Nigeria. He and his wife have three grown children.
Dr. David Garrett, Nantes '65-'66
The graduate of Morehouse College and alumnus of our 1966 Nantes, France program fondly acknowledges his study abroad experience and Mr. Merrill’s mission. Dr. Garrett is retired from Delphi Corporation as Director of Materials Engineering and also worked for Ford Motor Company and Eastman Kodak. In his career, he was awarded three patents, co-authored a book chapter about plastic processing, and was elected three times to the Birmingham School Board in Michigan.
“Through the years, I had very distinct opportunities to reflect on my study abroad time and use my experience dealing with others of a different culture,” says Dr. Garrett.
He recalls a particular project working with French, German, Italian, and English people to comply Delphi’s automobile manufacturing with European environmental requirements. He furthers: “We scientists are not generally known for our ability to interact with very different people. [By studying abroad and thanks to Mr. Merrill], I learned skills and an appreciation for their importance.”
To Mr. Merrill, Dr. Garrett says, “You had the insight and vision to allow us the opportunity to grow into effective world citizens. Thank you for allowing me to share this great fortune.”
Dr. Benjamin Daise, Vienna '63-'64
During Benajmin's time in Vienna he took two philsophy courses from Professor Mowatt. Althought he returned to Morehouse and completed his Chemistry major, he could not rid himself of the philosophy bug! After graduation, he spend a year at Haverford College studying philosophy and then earned a PhD at the University of Texas-Austin. He taught philosophy at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY until retirement in 2008, and is profoundly grateful for the life-alterning experience that was provided through Mr. Merrill's generosity!
Dr. Margaret Hampton, PhD, Vienna '63-'64
During Margaret's year in Vienna, she changed majors from Biology to German. She earned a PhD in German at Case Western Reserve and has been a German professor at Earlham College for 33 years. She has regularly led groups on study abroad to Germany and Austria.
"I had the opportunity to introduce Charles Merrill Jr at a special event on the Spelman College campus one year, and to personally thank him for what his gift has meant to my life."
Dr. James Jones, Vienna '63-'64
James double majored at Morehouse College in German and Biology/Chemistry. His German professor recommended the IES Abroad program to him. Like many Morehouse and Spellman students at that time, he returned to college and completed a fifth year. He then went to medical school at the University of California San Francisco where he became a chest surgeon. He served 22 years in the Army and Air Force that included tours of duty in Vietnam and Desert Storm. He lived in Germany for three years while in the military. He met his wife there and they have raised five children together, many of whom have studied abroad in a variety of venues.
"I had the opportunity to hear Mr. Merrill speak on the Morehouse campus from time to time and greatly value the scholarship he provided."
Dr. Donald Hopkins, Vienna '60-'61
A graduate of Morehouse College and our 1960-61 Vienna program, Dr. Hopkins has for the last 25 years worked at the Carter Center. The Carter Center’s mission is to wage peace, fight disease, and build hope in developing countries. Dr. Hopkins has to gone great lengths in Africa to help eradicate the crippling Guinea worm disease, a cause he has pursued since working as the Deputy Director of the Center for Disease Control. There is good news: Dr. Hopkins estimates they are very close to eliminating Guinea worm disease entirely.
Dr. Hopkins says his study-abroad experience was a major influence in his career. “In Vienna, I was able to get immersed in music, history, art, and architecture. The typical pre-med student doesn’t have these opportunities,” he explains.
“Also, I had a very important experience [while studying abroad] when I took a side trip to Egypt. I was looking at monuments and saw people with flies around their eyes. I now know this is trachoma and it’s something I’m working on at the Carter Center. That encounter really impacted me and I knew I wanted to focus on helping these people.”
To Mr. Merrill, Dr. Hopkins says, “What I owe you is beyond words. Thank you and God bless you and your family.”
Patricia (Pat) Chatard, PhD, Vienna '60-'61
A biology major at Spelman College, who had also studied Spanish, Pat decided to study in Vienna her senior year on the advice of a science profressor at Morehouse. Pat took an intensive German language program at the Goethe Institute in Germany during the summer of 1960 and then went on to take the academic year in Vienna. The most memorable part of the year was the Spring trip to Egypt, Turkey and Greece. Pat earned a Masters and PhD in quantitative molecular biology at the University of Rochester while her husband completed medical school. They moved to Seattle and Pat helped to establish and run a successful plastic surgery practice there with her husband. They are now retired.
Jimmie Briggs, Vienna Fall '89
Meet Jimmie Briggs: gifted storyteller and humanitarian. Jimmie was pre-med at Morehouse and pre-accepted to Harvard Medical school, prior to which he spent a semester in Vienna after receiving a Charles Merrill Jr. Scholarship. Vienna changed Jimmie's trajectory and he decided not to pursue medicine, but journalism. Witnessing the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of Eastern Europe had a profound effect on his life. After graduating from Morehouse College, he worked at the New York Post and Village Voice. He started Man Up Campaign, a non-profit to engage men/boys in global movement to end gender-based violence throughout the world. He has written three books, including the award-winning book Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers Go to War. In 2010, he was awarded GQ Magazine's “Better Men Better World” award. Read More.
Are you a Merrill Scholar? We’d love to hear your story. Please email alumni@IESabroad.org.