New Gift Enhances Ackerley Scholars Program
by Randy Meline, director of media relations at Graceland University

The Ackerley Computer Science and Technology Scholars - one of Graceland's premier academic programs - will enjoy an increased number of students, and enhanced project and program outreach, because of a generous new gift from the program's founders, Robert and Nora and Leland and Carmen Ackerley.

The entrepreneurial families from Houston, Texas founded the Ackerley Scholars program in 2002 with a gift of $2 million, creating an endowment that has allowed Dr. Jim Jones and his colleagues to build a computer science and information technology (CS/IT) program that is the envy of other small universities. The Ackerley families - who did not attend Graceland but have family ties dating back to the college's origins in 1895 - have added $1 million to their endowment, funds that will allow Ackerley program Director Jones to more competitively recruit top CS/IT high school students from around the world.

Increased funding drawn annually from the endowment will provide larger scholarships to Ackerley scholars and allow their number to increase from 12 to 16. Dr. Jones, who has led the program since it began, is excited about getting the word out that Graceland is fast becoming the small university to attend for computer studies. Ackerley scholars have hailed from China, Kosovo, Bosnia and other countries, and from across the United States, choosing Graceland because of its excellent programs, facilities and faculty - components supported by Ackerley gifts. Graceland boasts one of the oldest computer science programs in the country among small universities - it began in 1974. Ackerley funding has also provided for scheduled equipment updates and replacements (including major computer lab remodeling last year), and for faculty salary and professional development.

"We owe the Ackerley brothers a huge thank you for helping Graceland shape our emerging CS/IT programs," Jones said. "Their vision and encouragement have infused an energy into our programs that can be felt across the campus and community." He added that all CS/IT students, not just those receiving Ackerley scholarships, will benefit from the additional funding. "Greater support for individual student research projects will be available and we will be able to take more students to conferences and competitions," he said. For example, the Graceland robotics team has excelled during the last several years at the Midwest Instruction and Computing Symposium (MICS) held each Spring. Senior Dritan Zhuja, from Kosovo, and his partners, have won the robot competition three of the last four years, and our teams have done well in the computer programming competitions.

During his senior year Dritan helped train 15 other students in how to make robots, and assisted them as they competed at their first MICS in April. He was also one of very few undergraduates allowed to present a paper (Balancing Bi-pod Robot) at the Symposium.

Jimmy Christofis, a 2005 Graceland graduate, presented his senior project paper entitled Simulation of an All Terrain Hexapod Using Lego Mindstorms at MICS '05 and received the "Best Paper" award for undergraduate research. His six-legged Lego robot drew special interest by spectators who attended his presentation.

It was the goal of the Ackerley families to infuse energy into Graceland's computer science program - make it a premier program - when they donated the initial $2 million. According to Dr. Jones that goal has become a reality. "Bright, energetic students have joined our program," he said, "who might not otherwise have chosen Graceland. Their presence on campus and in the community has truly made a difference." The Ackerley brothers' great, great grandmother, Marietta Walker, donated the original 20 acres in 1893 which became the Graceland Lamoni campus. The Ackerleys also funded the Leland Drennen Ackerley Outdoor Track and Field Facility, part of Graceland's Bruce Jenner Sports Complex.

High school seniors who would like to apply to be part of the 2007-08 Ackerley Scholars program - and for more information about the program and application forms - should visit

With the Ackerley endowment increasing to $3 million, the program's future, and the availability of scholarships, will be assured for many years. The Ackerley families own and operate Smith and Associates, an independent worldwide distributor of electronic components and semiconductors. They have hired a number of Graceland graduates.

It was a part of the program's initial goal that the scholars would assume leadership roles in CS/IT activities, clubs, and academics, but they have done much more than that. They have become house presidents, SIFE (Students in Free Enterprise) members, worked with the computer helpdesk, forged independent scientific research projects, won major math competitions, and they are involved in many clubs and activities such as band, vocal music, academic bowls, drama club, quiz bowls and several sports. More importantly, perhaps, and in keeping with the program's design, they have become CS/IT trouble-shooters around campus, working with the campus computer support team, servicing computer workstations and eradicating viruses. They have built up a strong ACM (Association of Computing Machinery) chapter on campus - bringing prestige to Graceland through this important, national/international society. They have also extended their expertise by assisting with system administration of the various computer labs on campus.

Dr. Jones and his colleagues look forward to continued growth of the Ackerley Scholars program, and all CS/IT programs. The future looks very bright for computer studies at Graceland University.

Taken from the Graceland University news archives

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