Estate gift from alumnus to endow professorship, scholarship and fund to support students

Grateful for his Elon education, Ralph O. Mueller ’83 has made a $1.8 million estate gift that, in the future, will fund opportunities for faculty and students from underrepresented groups.

In making his $1.8 million estate gift, alumnus Ralph Mueller ’83 chose to support the areas that reflect his values and made his Elon education special: outstanding faculty mentors and support for students, including scholarships.

“Elon did what Elon does very well. Faculty and staff members mentored me, guided me and gently pushed me forward, and that was critical for my educational and personal development,” Mueller said. “That was all done from within the context of a small liberal arts college, and I felt very comfortable in that environment.”

Supporting education is near and dear to Mueller, a distinguished educator, researcher, author and administrator who serves as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at the University of Baltimore.

The majority of his gift, $1 million, will create the Dr. Ralph O. Mueller ’83 Endowed Professorship. The professorship will be awarded to an emerging faculty member who has not yet reached tenure and is from a historically underrepresented group, including LGBTQIA, and teaches in a quantitative field within the social or natural sciences, including statistics, mathematics or computer science.

“Faculty members are the heart of the institution, so if I can make an impact by facilitating maturity and advancement of a faculty member from an underserved population, that would be fantastic,” Mueller said. “I have been a student all my life, but I have also been a teacher since I was 15, when I worked as a peer tutor, so I have seen the power of both studying as well as teaching and mentoring.”

Dr. Ralph O. Mueller ’83 Odyssey Scholarship

Approximately $500,000 of the gift will endow the Dr. Ralph O. Mueller ’83 Odyssey Scholarship to assist a student from a historically underrepresented group, including LGBTQIA, who majors in a quantitative field within the social or natural sciences. Mueller chose to endow a scholarship because he wanted to empower those students who would be unable to attend Elon without financial assistance.

“The student experience at Elon was critically important to me,” he said. “I hope this student scholarship will not only support someone to complete their education at Elon but also help that student to succeed long term, both professionally and personally, and lead a fulfilled life.”

The remainder of Mueller’s estate commitment will endow a fund in his name to support the mission and programs of Elon’s Gender and LGBTQIA Center (GLC), including defraying costs associated with participation in the Elon Experiences, such as study abroad, or professional conferences, tuition, housing or other needs. Mueller believes diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives are important because they make a campus stronger.

“My wish for members of Elon’s LGBTQ and other underserved communities is that they feel supported and safe on campus,” he said. “It’s about becoming part of the fabric of what makes college and campus life so rich, for those who have the fortune to experience it.”

“Our community is deeply grateful to Dr. Mueller for generously investing in the hallmarks of an Elon education, including outstanding faculty scholars and remarkable students who will lead our future,” said Rebecca Kohn, provost and vice president of academic affairs. “Elon is a stronger institution because of inspired philanthropic support from alumni like Ralph Mueller.”

The GLC endowed fund will provide needed resources for a growing number of Elon students who identify as LGBTQIA. In the Class of 2027 that enrolled last fall, the number of students who self-identified as LGBTQIA topped 200.

“Over the years, we’ve seen the need to support LGBTQIA students in their holistic needs and not just their academic needs,” said Luis Garay, director of the GLC.

Some of these needs include providing assistance with food insecurity, gender-affirming clothing, school supplies, attending conferences and participating in internships.

“This gift will allow us to continue the legacy of inclusion in the GLC for years to come,” Garay said.

A life-changing Elon experience

Mueller arrived at then-Elon College in 1979, fresh off the plane from his native Germany and unsure of what the future would hold. One of Elon’s first international students, Mueller enrolled on a one-year Rotary Scholarship that he credits with changing his life. Committed to making the most of his time on campus, he dove into his studies of mathematics and computer science and became a member of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, serving as president of the Epsilon Alpha chapter.

His personal and intellectual growth were nurtured by some of Elon’s iconic faculty mentors, including the late Alonzo L. Hook, a 1913 alumnus and longtime physics and mathematics professor; President Emeritus J. Earl Danieley ’46, who served his alma mater for seven decades, including as a member of the chemistry faculty; and longtime education faculty member and senior administrator Jo Watts Williams ’55, for whom the university’s Dr. Jo Watts Williams School of Education is named.

Mueller credits retired mathematics professor Richard Haworth and Provost Emeritus Gerry Francis with helping inspire his career in higher education. He recalls walking past Duke Building at night and seeing the lights on in Haworth’s ground-floor office. Haworth taught at Elon for 34 years, including serving as chair of the Department of Mathematics, before retiring in 2008.

“I was able to just stop by his office in the evening and get my questions answered,” Mueller recalled. “That was phenomenal.”

Mueller left Elon following his first year when his Rotary Scholarship ended and returned home to Germany, where he enrolled at a large public university. It did not take long for him to recognize how much he missed the strong sense of community he had experienced at the smaller Elon. He returned to campus as a sophomore and graduated summa cum laude with a degree in mathematics before moving on to earn a master’s degree in mathematics from Wake Forest University (1984) and a doctorate in educational research and evaluation from Virginia Tech (1987).

Associate Director of Planned Giving Leanna Giles ’02 thanked Mueller for placing Elon in his estate, helping to create a powerful pipeline of financial support for the future.

“Ralph’s philanthropy is a testament to his journey from student to professor and his unwavering commitment to fostering an inclusive and supportive environment for all,” Giles said. “His generosity ensures that future generations will benefit from the same transformative experience that shaped his own life and career.”

About the Donor

Ralph Mueller was named provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at the University of Baltimore in March 2023, following decades of administrative, teaching and research experience. Prior to joining the University of Baltimore, he served as executive vice president for strategic initiatives at D’Youville University in Buffalo, New York, and held senior administrative positions as vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost at Purdue University Northwest, Indiana, and as dean of the College of Education, Nursing and Health Professions at the University of Hartford, Connecticut.

Before occupying administrative roles, Mueller spent 16 years at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he held joint faculty appointments in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development and in the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration. During the 2007-08 academic year, he was an American Council on Education fellow and special assistant to the provost at the University of Miami, Florida. He began his career at the University of Toledo, Ohio, in 1987, serving as an assistant and associate professor of educational research.

Throughout his career, Mueller has been a dedicated student and faculty advocate, who has championed diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and fostered community engagement through external university partnerships. He is a noted quantitative research methodologist with contributions to more than 40 peer-reviewed publications (including six books) and numerous academic presentations. Mueller has also served as a consultant to the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education and the World Bank.

Mueller received the Distinguished Alumni Award in the Natural, Mathematical and Computing Sciences from Elon College, The College of Arts and Sciences, in 2017.