Rossier News

Mike and Jerrilyn Wilson: Radical believers

Funder of the Dr. Michael J. Wilson and Mrs. Jerrilyn Wilson Scholarship

By Barbara Goen Published on

Sitting in their Pasadena home high atop the Rose Bowl, and ruminating on the countless international journeys that keep them on the move, Jeri and Mike Wilson keep coming back to the topic that anchors them to home—USC. And it’s not subtle. She is decked out in cardinal, including shoes; he is wearing gold with a snappy cardinal trim. These two are true believers. And it was ingrained at birth.

Jeri Wilson’s New Mexico-based grandfather was a Teddy Roosevelt Rough Rider. At a Southern California reunion of his regimen in the early 1920s, he fell in love with the USC campus, and returned home to tell his son, Jeri’s father, in no uncertain terms that he expected him to attend the University of Southern California. No discussion. And he did, graduating from the School of Pharmacy.

Son-in-law Mike Wilson is also a proud Trojan graduate—receiving his MS in education from the USC Rossier School in 1972. Together, Jeri and Mike have made a significant financial commitment to the school to endow a scholarship, which they hope “will perpetuate these many years of good work.”

“This is a school with great foresight. They’ve hired terrific Deans,” said Mike, referring specifically to Irving Melbo and later Guilbert Hentschke. “And I can’t say enough good things about Karen Gallagher. When she came in, she involved students, alumni, faculty ... everyone ... in moving the school forward.

“She’s a leader that has established a national reputation. The new faculty she has hired are great. The staff, too.”

Both Jeri and Mike have been teachers, and while Jeri segued into multiple successful entrepreneurial ventures, Mike spent his career within LAUSD, moving from teaching, to serving as assistant principal, principal, and what was then designated as regional and area administration. “Attending the USC School of Education sparked your interest in doing lots of different things,” he recalls. “And it wasn’t just theoretical. The professors had worked in education. They were practitioners and they were always on the cutting edge.”

Mike Wilson’s commitment to USC fundraising goes back to the beginning of President Steve Sample’s tenure, when the President asked Mike to join a committee to build a $500 million endowment. That goal was challenging enough, according to Mike, but when it was soon raised to $l billion, he and his colleagues clearly had their work cut out for them. But his respect for the President and his vision kept them on the path to success, a success which at the time was unprecedented.

This legacy of success and greatness is what Jeri and Mike Wilson want to continue for a new generation of education students. “We don’t want our gift to be restrictive,” they say. “Whoever wants to go to the Rossier School, and is a great candidate, should have the opportunity, no matter their financial need.”

USC Rossier is “a top school,” said the Wilsons, even though Jeri herself carries a degree from a Westside campus. “I know we’re not supposed to be biased, but ...”

Article Type

Article Topics