Editor’s note: This semester, the Neag School of Education is celebrating 25 years as the Neag School and publishing a series of articles chronicling the impact that Ray and Carole Neag had on the School. This article is the first in the series.
In the spring of 1999, UConn’s School of Education received a tremendous gift from a strong believer in public education. Ray Neag’s $21 million donation to the School was, at the time, unprecedented and set the School on a path of extreme growth. This spring, the Neag School is celebrating the 25th anniversary of Ray’s gift and the renaming of the School in his honor, as well as reflecting on how Ray’s generosity and vision made the School what it is today: one of the top public schools of education in the country.
“This is an exciting time to be a part of the Neag School,” Dean Jason G. Irizarry says. “We’re celebrating 25 years since the renaming of the School and all the accomplishments that have been made possible thanks to Ray Neag. It’s bittersweet that Ray and his wife, Carole, are no longer with us to see this, but the true celebration in their honor is the work being done every day at the Neag School to continually improve education for all.”
The late Ray Neag ’56 (CLAS), ’01 (HON) was the youngest of eight children and grew up in Torrington, Connecticut. He graduated from Torrington High School and attended the UConn Waterbury campus before enlisting in the U.S. Air Force. In 1956, after serving his country, he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at UConn Storrs. Later, he studied foreign trade at the American Graduate School of International Management and graduated from Harvard University’s advanced management program.
Ray was co-vice chairman and one of four founding members of Arrow International Inc., a leading manufacturer of cardiac and critical-care products for the medical industry. His kindness to the School of Education actually began three years before his transformational gift, in 1996, when he gave a $1.6 million endowment to establish both the Neag Chair in Gifted and Talented Education and the Neag Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development. As part of the UConn 2000 rebuilding program, the state matched his $21 million gift in 1999 with another $3.4 million.
“I’m a product of public education,” Ray proudly stated while announcing his intentions. “My gift to the School of Education is a way to acknowledge and repay what teachers and schools have done for me.” He firmly believed that education is society’s “great equalizer” and that his “strategic investment” in the School of Education would build a brighter future for children.
At the time, his gift was the largest any school of education in the country had ever received and the largest gift to a public university in New England.
I’m a product of public education. My gift to the School of Education is a way to acknowledge and repay what teachers and schools have done for me. — Ray Neag ’56 (CLAS), ’01 (HON), in 1999
“Ray was the catalyst to all we do today,” Irizarry says. “In the past 25 years, we have grown in terms of enrollment, hiring, and even physical space across UConn’s campuses. We have also risen in the national rankings from below 50 to among the top 25 public schools of education, and our graduates are employed by nearly every school district in Connecticut.”
In the decades following his 1999 gift, Ray and Carole Neag became two of UConn’s strongest advocates. At the Neag School of Education, their support led to the creation of three endowed chairs and three chaired professorships. At UConn Health, they invested in the cancer, cardiology, and orthopedics programs, culminating in a $10 million commitment to establish the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center in 2004.
Their tireless support and philanthropy place the Neags among the most prominent figures in UConn’s history, next to brothers Charles and Augustus Storrs, who donated the land and funding in 1880 to start the University. In 2001, Ray received an honorary degree from UConn. Ray died in April 2018 at the age of 86, while Carole passed away just last year at age 80.
“Ray Neag was the personification of a true gentleman and philanthropist,” said Richard Schwab, emeritus dean of the Neag School, after Ray’s passing. “Over my 14 years as dean, he became my friend, mentor, and trusted adviser. He believed that teachers are some of the most important people in our society. His generosity and support for the Neag School is unmatched by any other philanthropist in the nation who believes in the importance of education. In the years to come, generations of teachers, administrators, and families will benefit from his love and generosity.”
Today, the Neag School of Education is renowned in its field and hosts one of the most research-productive departments at UConn. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona is an alum of the School, as is 2023 National Principal of the Year Donna Hayward, 2024 Connecticut Superintendent of the Year Joseph Macary, and Connecticut’s 2024 Teacher of the Year Kiana Foster-Mauro.
“None of this would have been possible without Ray Neag,” Irizarry says. “His intent was to pay the gift of excellent public education forward and this is exactly what he did. His support enabled the School to produce outstanding educators, sport professionals, and educational leaders, who have gone on to lead the field and enhance education for younger generations. It is a continuous cycle of giving and service that all stems from Ray’s vision. Our gratitude to the Neags is endless and we strive to do their memories proud in the Neag School’s next 25 years.”