Couple’s gifts support teacher education at Penn State Harrisburg

Jeffrey and Jean Merritt
Credit: Jeffrey and Jean Merritt

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. — Jeffrey P. Merritt, a 1985 architectural engineering graduate, and his wife, Jean P. Merritt, have established two gifts at Penn State Harrisburg to support teacher education.

A $100,000 gift establishes the Merritt Program Fund for Teacher Education, to be used by the teacher education program in the college’s School of Behavioral Sciences and Education to support teacher education in the science, technology, engineering and/or mathematics (STEM) fields and to further strategic priorities. 

A $1 million legacy gift after their lifetimes will fund the Merritt Professorship in Teacher Education endowment. The endowment will provide a professor in the teacher education program with the opportunity to further their contributions to teaching, research and public service, with first preference given to faculty members whose work focuses on teacher education in the STEM fields. 

“We believe that education is a cornerstone of the American way of life and the strength of our democracy, and therefore, teachers are one of America’s most important resources. As the global world gets smaller and our children have access to ever-growing amounts of information, both true and untrue, it has become more imperative than ever before that we produce a citizenship that is educated, curious, discerning and demanding of facts," the couple said in a statement. "This gift aims to support our heroic teachers-in-training, and their instructors, as together they explore new ways to educate our youth, create engaging teaching practices that instill a love of learning and utilize cutting-edge tools and forums to energize the minds of tomorrow’s leaders.”

“We are honored and grateful to the Merritts for this deeply impactful gift, as well as their longtime support of the college,” said Penn State Harrisburg Chancellor John M. Mason Jr. “This transformative gift enables the teacher education program to build upon the strong foundation already established to prepare teachers-in-training for their future careers as educators.”

“We knew that we wanted to make a legacy gift to support the students who have chosen to teach and are being educated as teachers,” Jeff Merritt said. “We know that recruiting, training and making sure that teachers are comfortable in their jobs are extremely important to the future of younger students. It is our hope that this gift will sustain the excellence of the teacher education program and continue a legacy of effective teachers.”

Jeff Merritt, a member and former chair of the college’s Board of Advisers, is a longtime leader in the construction management industry, with more than 30 years in progressive leadership roles over the course of his career. The bulk of his career was with Reynolds Construction Management, based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he served as COO and then president beginning in 2009. He and two Reynolds colleagues purchased the firm outright in 2013. Merritt continued to serve as an owner/manager until 2021, prior to his retirement.

In addition to his role on the Board of Advisers at Penn State Harrisburg, Merritt has served as a volunteer for over two decades on academic and program-level campus advisory boards and on multiple campaign committees, holding leadership roles in all of them.

In the early 2000s, Merritt was a primary consultant to the college’s chancellor, senior associate dean and director of the School of Science, Engineering, and Technology in the development of comprehensive, four-year undergraduate engineering degree programs, which were introduced in 2003. These programs established a model at the college and served as a catalyst for a new era of education at Penn State Harrisburg, which now has a full complement of four-year degrees. Until these first initial four-year programs, Penn State Harrisburg offered strictly upper division (third and fourth year) and graduate education.

Jean Merritt holds a bachelor of science in mathematics and a secondary education teaching certificate from Millersville University. She taught high school math for 15 years at York Catholic High School before retiring in 2012.

The Merritts’ three children are all graduates of Penn State.

As donors, the Merritts have invested in a variety of initiatives. Their philanthropic commitments total nearly $1.2 million and include the Jeffrey and Jean Merritt Honors Thesis Award, the Jeffrey and Jean Merritt Open Doors Scholarship, and in 2022, the establishment of Penn State Harrisburg’s first named professorship, the Merritt Professorship in Teacher Education.

Donors like the Merritts advance the University’s historic land-grant mission to serve and lead. Through philanthropy, alumni and friends are helping students to join the Penn State family and prepare for lifelong success; driving research, outreach and economic development that grow our shared strength and readiness for the future; and increasing the University’s impact for families, patients, and communities across the Commonwealth and around the world. Learn more by visiting Raise Penn State.