25 Years as Neag: Neag School Celebrates 25th Anniversary of the Naming of the School

The School and the UConn Foundation gathered friends, donors, faculty, staff, students, and Neag family members on May 15 to celebrate the legacy and impact of Ray and Carole Neag's transformative gift.

A family gathers in Rome Ballroom at UConn.

Joseph Renzulli and Sally Reis, first and second from left, gather with the rest of the Neag family at the Neag School's 25th Anniversary Celebration held at UConn Storrs on May 15. (Matthew Hodgkins/UConn Foundation)

On this special anniversary, we announce the Carole and Ray Special Education Scholarship. Trustees Beth Lamoin and Sara Renzulli join me in presenting a $250,000 check … marking our commitment to future gifts and honoring Ray and Carole’s legacy. — Sally Reis

Editor’s note: This year, 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 third in the series.

Throughout 2024, the Neag School of Education is celebrating the 25th anniversary of Ray Neag’s $21 million gift to the School and the renaming of the School in his honor, as well as reflecting on how he and his wife, Carole, helped make the School what it is today: one of the top public schools of education in the country.

As part of the recognition, the Neag School and the UConn Foundation gathered friends, donors, faculty, staff, students, and Neag family members at UConn Storrs’ Rome Ballroom on May 15 to celebrate the legacy and impact of the transformative gift.

“[Their gift] will impact the School in perpetuity because of their generosity,” said Sally Reis, Letitia Neag Morgan Chair for Educational Psychology, UConn Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor, and Ray Neag’s niece. “Because of that, the Neag School will continue to be able to do outstanding work. And that’s the power of giving, philanthropy, and an endowment to a school like the Neag School.”

The event served two purposes: first, to honor the past and highlight the profound influence of the Neags’ donation on the School, the University, and Connecticut; second, to look forward, emphasizing the need for continued investment to sustain the Neag School’s impact on communities statewide.

Celebrating the Transformative Gift

Anne D’Alleva, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at UConn
Anne D’Alleva, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at UConn, welcomed guests to the 25th Anniversary Celebration honoring Ray and Carol Neag. (Matthew Hodgkins/UConn Foundation)

Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Anne D’Alleva began by welcoming guests to the celebration honoring Ray and Carol Neag, who were Connecticut natives and UConn’s most generous benefactors.

“Their philanthropic gifts, including to the School of Education, inspired many to consider making their transformational contributions,” D’Alleva said. “Gary Gladstein, a former UConn Foundation board member, praised the Neags for their exceptional generosity.”

The Neags’ legacy includes the Carole and Ray Comprehensive Cancer Center and other significant contributions to UConn Health and the School of Medicine, D’Alleva noted. “Their support has been life-changing for many at UConn, highlighted by a tribute video celebrating their enduring impact,” she said.

“When I arrived at UConn in ’97, the Gentry Building was dilapidated and overcrowded,” said Neag School Dean Emeritus Richard Schwab in the tribute video. “Faculty gathered informally in hallways due to the lack of space. I envisioned a community hub where conversations flowed freely, and students could engage with professors easily.”

“I was eager to meet Ray, knowing of his previous contributions,” Schwab continued. “I shared my vision: to elevate our School of Education to a top-ranking institution. Ray was inspired, ultimately donating $21 million, matched by $4 million from the state, the largest gift to a school of education nationally and to a New England public institution at the time.”

“It made everybody believe that we could be a better school and, of course, we became a better school,” Reis said in the video.

D’Alleva thanked the guests for helping to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Neag School of Education and expanded on the Neags’ profound impact.

“The Neags’ philanthropy began in 1993 with a $1.6 million endowment to establish the Neag Chair in Gifted and Talented Education and the Neag Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development,” she said. “In 1999, the state matched their $21 million gift with an additional $4 million. Ray, a product of public education, believed his investment would build a brighter future for children statewide.”

“The Neag School has nurtured students, faculty, and staff, launched careers, and fulfilled dreams,” said Dean Jason G. Irizarry. “I arrived at UConn in 2005 as a postdoctoral fellow and have since been mentored by many esteemed faculty. Five years ago, I became associate dean, and now, as dean, I have the honor of hosting this celebration.”

Impact of Philanthropic Support

“The Neag Endowment’s impact is extensive,” Irizarry continued. “Our research expenditures reached $16.1 million as of June 2023, making our Department of Educational Psychology one of the most research-productive at the University. This funding supports projects like the Feel Your Best Self Project, promoting social-emotional learning in elementary children, and the Breaking Bias, Embracing Empathy Project, reducing bias and racism through virtual reality and AI technology.”

Pictured from left to right are Dean Emeritus Richard Schwab; Gladis Kersaint, former dean of the Neag School; and Dean Jason G. Irizarry. (Matthew Hodgkins/UConn)
From left are Dean Emeritus Richard Schwab; Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Gladis Kersaint, former dean of the Neag School; and Dean Jason G. Irizarry at the 25th Anniversary Celebration. (Matthew Hodgkins/UConn Foundation)

Ray and Carole’s support has also attracted top-tier students and faculty to the Neag School. Notable alumni include U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Connecticut’s 2024 Teacher of the Year Kiana Foster-Mauro.

“The Neag School has been recognized as one of the top 25 public graduate schools of education for nine consecutive years,” Irizarry said. “Endowed positions, funded by the Neags, have allowed faculty to dive deeper into impactful research. Tonight, we’ll hear from Dr. Sandra Chafouleas, a leading researcher in school psychology.”

The most impactful aspect of the Neags’ gift is the scholarships they established or inspired others to establish, making higher education accessible. Since 2021, the Neag School has doubled the amount of scholarship funding awarded to students, reaching nearly $540,000 total across all scholarship funds this coming academic year.

Cecilia Echevarria, a Neag School honors student, gathers with her mother at the 25th Anniversary Celebration. (Matthew Hodgkins/UConn)
Cecilia Echevarria, a Neag School student, and her mother, Julia Echevarria, attend the 25th Anniversary Celebration on May 15. (Matthew Hodgkins/UConn Foundation)

Cecilia Echevarria, a Neag School honors student pursuing a dual degree in American Sign Language (ASL) education and ASL interpreting, shared the impact of Neag School scholarship support on her life and expressed her gratitude to donors. As a rising senior in the Neag School’s Integrated Bachelor’s/Master’s teacher education program, she shared the overwhelming challenge of affording college.

“Scholarships have been a blessing, allowing me to focus on becoming a successful educator,” Echevarria said. “I’m inspired by my mother, an immigrant and a licensed clinical social worker, and I value education deeply. I hope to promote American Sign Language in schools and inspire students to pursue it. I’m grateful for the support and excited about my future at UConn.”

Chafouleas, a Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor and Neag School faculty member since 2000, also shared her journey and gratitude at the 25th anniversary celebration.

“I recalled my nervousness upon joining the Neag School, surrounded by esteemed colleagues, but was quickly welcomed and mentored,” Chafouleas said. “I recall a memorable lunch with Sally Reis during my first semester. She provided helpful insights on balancing work and family life.”

Pictured second from the right, Sandra Chafouleas, co-created the award-winning "Feel Your Best Self" Toolkit. Also pictured are Casey Cobb, Neag School Professor of Educational Leadership, and two puppeteers from the FYBS program. (Matthew Hodgkins/UConn)
Sandy Chafouleas, second from right, co-created the award-winning Feel Your Best Self toolkit, which features the two puppets pictured here. Also pictured are Casey Cobb, left, the Neag Endowed Professor in Educational Policy, and two puppeteers from the FYBS project. (Matthew Hodgkins/UConn Foundation)

Fast forward 25 years, Chafouleas has achieved significant milestones in academia, focusing on mental health and well-being. She co-created the award-winning Feel Your Best Self toolkit, which offers simple, joyful materials for kids and caregivers to manage emotions effectively. This initiative, founded during the pandemic, has gained global interest thanks to support from foundations and donors.

Collaborating with Emily Wicks from UConn’s Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry, Chafouleas highlighted the synergy that has made the toolkit successful. She invited attendees to explore Feel Your Best Self displays and engage with the materials at the celebration. To showcase the toolkit’s effectiveness, Chafouleas then introduced a short video clip by Edutopia of Feel Your Best Self’s application in a partner classroom, emphasizing the ongoing need for support to continue the initiative’s mission.

Carole and Ray Neag Special Education Scholarship

“I am wearing two hats tonight,” Reis said when she stood at the podium. “I am both a proud member of the Neag family and a grateful scholar of the Neag School. Ray and Carole would have loved this celebration. Ray often said, ‘This is terrific’ when happy, and Carole would have shared her warmth with everyone here. Ray valued his UConn education, supported by siblings who couldn’t attend college themselves.”

Reis then announced a special match gift from the Neag Foundation, which was a highlight of the evening.

“On this special anniversary, we announce the Carole and Ray Special Education Scholarship,” she said. “Trustees Beth Lamoin and Sara Renzulli join me in presenting a $250,000 check to Jason, marking our commitment to future gifts and honoring Ray and Carole’s legacy. Thank you all for your continued support.”

“Sally, Beth, Sara, Abigail, thank you so very much for this incredible gift,” said Amy Yancey, CEO of the UConn Foundation, expressing admiration for the perseverance of Ray and Carole’s legacy. Reflecting on the milestone for UConn, Yancey remarked: “It set the stage for what has been growing philanthropy.”

Amy Yancy
“Sally, Beth, Sarah, Abigail, thank you so very much for this incredible gift,” said Amy Yancey, CEO of the UConn Foundation. “It set the stage for what has been growing philanthropy.” (Matthew Hodgkins/UConn Foundation)

Yancey also acknowledged the UConn Foundation’s Founders Society and Charles Lewis Beach Society members in attendance, emphasizing their significant contributions.

“My life was transformed through education,” Yancey said. “I hope you will join and hear the call of the challenge match for the Neag grant. It’s an honor, a privilege to be here with you tonight.”

Irizarry then closed the evening by thanking the Neag family and the Neag Foundation for their immense generosity, highlighting its recent impact on the Neag School. Irizarry urged attendees to explore Neag School initiatives and again credited Ray and Carole Neag for their pivotal role in the life of the Neag School.

“None of this would have been possible without Ray and Carole Neag – they were the catalyst to all we do today,” Irizarry concluded. “Ray’s intent was to pay the gift of excellent public education forward and tonight shows that he did. … Our gratitude to the Neags is endless and we strive to do their memories proud in the Neag School’s next 25 years. Thank you, Carole and Ray.”

To learn more about the UConn Neag School of Education, visit education.uconn.edu and follow the Neag School on InstagramFacebookX, and LinkedIn.