A family decision: Gift endows new Odyssey Program scholarship

The university’s Odyssey Program resonates with senior Koster Silvernail ’21 and parents Shelby and Andy Silvernail P’21, leading to a generous gift that will help high-achieving students with financial need attend Elon. Support for Odyssey and other scholarships is the top priority of the Elon LEADS Campaign.

When Shelby and Andy Silvernail P’21 recently endowed a scholarship in the Odyssey Program, it was a family decision led by their son, Koster Silvernail ’21, who is set to graduate from Elon on May 21.

The Silvernail family: Front, Andy and Shelby Silvernail; back, Koster, Alyssa and Spencer Silvernail.

As the Silvernails, of Lake Forest, Illinois, planned how to best support the university, they discussed Elon’s top priorities with campus leadership. Then they presented those priorities to their sons Koster and Spencer and daughter Alyssa.

“We have thought in recent years about how to make an impact. We want the entire family to participate in that,” Andy Silvernail said. “We’ve been blessed, and we want to be invested in programs that touch all our hearts. Odyssey really touched Koster.”

“The second they read off the description of the program and I read more about it, it struck me as the right choice,” said Koster Silvernail, a marketing major in the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business, who will begin working as a project analyst for Strategex in Chicago upon graduation.

The family’s generous gift will create the Silvernail Family Odyssey Scholarship. Odyssey Scholarships are awarded based on academic success and high financial need. The Odyssey Program serves students who are frequently the first members of their family to attend college and have achieved academic success while overcoming adversity. They are consistently among Elon’s top-performing students. Odyssey is an extensive, cohort-based program that creates a family atmosphere among students and fosters mentoring, friendships and personal growth.

Each Odyssey Scholarship includes financial assistance that meets a student’s full need. In addition to annual tuition assistance, each scholarship includes a stipend for books and supplies, and a one-time $4,000 global study grant to be used for an approved study abroad or Study USA program. Based in Elon’s Center for Access and Success, the program is recognized as a national model for serving students who are underrepresented on college campuses.

Increasing funding for Odyssey and other scholarships is the top priority of the Elon LEADS Campaign. Elon reached the 200 Odyssey Scholarship mark thanks to gifts and commitments from donors like the Silvernails to the $250 million Elon LEADS Campaign. When fully funded, the Silvernail Scholarship will support two Odyssey students each year.

Shelby Silvernail, who was a first-generation college student, said diversity and inclusion in the Odyssey Program and how it improves the cultural and academic environment at Elon resonated with the family and especially with Koster.

“When I read the Odyssey brief and saw how the students are selected, learned about what’s offered in the program and talked to Odyssey scholars and heard their stories, I saw how driven they are to succeed. I was impressed. They are the kinds of Elon students that when I came here, I wanted to be,” Koster Silvernail said. “Odyssey puts the students at the buffet table that is everything Elon is, and they dig in.”

Jim Piatt, vice president for university advancement, thanked the Silvernail family for making Elon more accessible to a wide range of students through philanthropy.

“The ability to offer more Odyssey Scholarships will change the lives of even more incoming Elon students who go on to positively impact our campus community and the world,” Piatt said. “It’s truly inspiring to know that Koster and the Silvernail family were motivated by the excellence and dedication they see in our Odyssey scholars to make this generous gift.”

Increasing diversity and access

Koster Silvernail said he grew up in a largely homogenous suburban area near Chicago and found some similarities at Elon. He hopes programs like Odyssey can make Elon more diverse while providing greater access for high-achieving students who lack financial resources to attend a private university. It is also important that Odyssey students have the resources to participate in the Elon Experiences programs such as global study and have a built-in support system within the program.

“After his study abroad experiences, (Koster) wanted all students to have access to it,” Shelby Silvernail said. “He wants to attract more people from different backgrounds to the school and for them to have the resources here when they arrive to thrive. The Odyssey Program has a tremendous success rate for its students.”

Elon’s long-term goal is to endow 400 Odyssey scholarships, or 100 per class. The university is halfway to meeting that goal. Reaching that mark would make a big difference for all students at Elon, Koster Silvernail said.

“I think what resonated the most is the students really didn’t see an avenue of following their dreams and aspirations until the Odyssey Scholarship was presented. And then they ran with it. It was their drive and perseverance that impressed me,” Koster said. “I love the idea of having students who not only add to the diversity and great thinkers here, but also the drive. After talking to these students, I felt incredibly inspired. Having more Odyssey Scholars will add to Elon’s culture and make it even more of a great academic institution.”

Andy Silvernail is the chairman and CEO of Madison Industries, one of the world’s largest privately held companies. It is dedicated to fostering businesses related to health and well-being. The Silvernails have previously supported scholarships, including Students First, an initiative launched during the COVID-19 pandemic to aid students whose families have undergone severe financial hardship as a result of the coronavirus.

The most recent gift was also part of a matching program on Elon Day, which was used to inspire more donations. Tait Arend, ’96, G’00, senior director of development, said Elon is thankful for such strong support from parents.

“The Silvernail family, through this gift will change the trajectory of lives forever,” Arend said. “The impact will be extraordinary, and we are forever grateful for their partnership in opening the doors of Elon to students that will change their world.”

“We want to support Elon. We love the school and it’s been transformational for Koster,” Andy Silvernail said. “It excites Koster and it excites us.”

About the Elon LEADS Campaign

With a $250 million goal, Elon LEADS is the largest fundraising campaign in the university’s history and will support four main funding priorities: scholarships for graduates the world needs, increase access to engaged learning opportunities such as study abroad, research and service learning, support for faculty and staff mentors who matter and Elon’s iconic campus. As of April 23, donors had contributed $210 million toward the goal.

Every gift to the university—including annual, endowment, capital, estate and other planned gifts—for any designation counts as a gift to the campaign, which will support students and strengthen Elon for generations to come. To learn more about how you can make an impact, visit www.elonleads.com.