Paying it forward: McDonnell family makes $100,000 gift to HealthEU Center

The gift from Elon parents Michael and Marissa McDonnell P’24 will support the university’s new facility to address the holistic health and well-being of students, faculty and staff.

Elon parents Michael and Marissa McDonnell P’24 have made a $100,000 gift to support the university’s new HealthEU Center.

The Mendham, New Jersey parents wanted to show their gratitude to Elon by supporting the center, which will be a hub for health and wellness initiatives located within the Innovation Quad.

“We wanted to give something back to Elon given the great experience our family has had and the wonderful education our daughter Whitney received,” Michael McDonnell said.

The McDonnells believe strongly in the mission of the HealthEU Center and educating students about all aspects of wellness and well-being, including taking care of their physical and emotional health. This is particularly important following the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of social media, which can further isolate young people.

“We are big believers that mental health awareness and getting treatment options are critical to our society,” Michael said.

Dr. Marissa McDonnell, a retired pediatrician, agrees, noting that many students missed out on important milestones in their lives, including high school proms and graduations due to the pandemic, which led to a loss of community.

“Creating community again and bringing those elements and services together in one center is so important,” Marissa said. “Without question this is something that is a great fit for us to help with.”

Elon has set a $25 million fundraising goal to help make the HealthEU Center a reality. To date, donors have contributed $7 million to the project, which will bring academic, wellness, campus recreation and fitness programs together under one roof to support student success.

A rendering of the courtyard and main entrance of the new HealthEU Center to be built at Elon.

The new center is an integral component to the university’s broader HealthEU initiative that focuses on six dimensions of health and wellness: community, emotional, purpose, financial, physical and social. The three-story center will feature new classrooms, student-faculty research spaces, multiple floors for wellness and fitness activities and the Mark and Kim Tyson Counseling Center, which will provide individual and group therapy, as well as workshops and outreach programs.

Through coursework, workshops and training programs focused on health and wellness, the HealthEU Center will impact all students as they progress through their education and learn essential skills and practices to thrive on campus and throughout each stage of their lives.

The McDonnells were impressed with Elon’s thoughtful design of the facility and its focus on educating the mind, body and spirit of every student.

“One of the big objectives we always had with our children’s education was that they learn how to think,” Michael said. “Whatever career you are going into, you need to be able to think clearly and know how to deliver consistently. It’s hard to be consistent when you’re struggling with mental health, so if this center can help young people learn how to manage their mental health and be consistent in their activities, this will help them be successful.”

“I hope that other universities pay attention to what Elon is doing,” added Marissa. “If everyone had access to a model similar to the HealthEU Center, it would make a tremendous impact on improving the mental health of our young adults.”

A ‘rock-steady foundation’

Whitney McDonnell ’24 graduated with a degree in drama & theatre studies and arts administration, along with a minor in business administration. Among the highlights of her education was participating in the Semester at Sea program in partnership with the International Student Exchange (ISE), which took her to Amsterdam, Cyprus, Dubrovnik, Morocco and Kenya among other locations.

“Elon ignited my passion for the entertainment industry and encouraged me to bring my perspective to make the arts more inclusive and innovative,” Whitney wrote on LinkedIn. “I am truly grateful for the rock-steady foundation upon which I will build a career and make a difference in the creative sector.”

The McDonnells’ gift will also establish an Elon Engagement Scholarship to help enroll students eager to take advantage of the university’s nationally recognized engaged learning curriculum.

Michael McDonnell serves as executive vice president and chief financial officer at Biogen and Marissa McDonnell is president of Schiff Natural Lands Trust in Mendham, New Jersey.

Make An Impact

Many naming opportunities are available in the HealthEU Center, beginning at $50,000. Gift commitments may be made in full or with a pledge over a period of five years. To find out how you can make an impact with your gift, contact Brian Baker, associate vice president for university advancement, at 336.278.7453 or