College to Roll Out New Scholarships With Music Donation

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Carlos Wyrick/Staff Photographer

Jason DeCristofaro (right) teaches student in applied percussion

One Million Dollars. When Jason DeCristofaro, music instructor and director of the jazz ensemble at Warren Wilson College, heard the amount of money the donors wanted to put towards developing new scholarships for music students, he just about fell out of his seat.

When he first started developing the idea of creating scholarships that would provide financial aid to music students at Warren Wilson, DeCristofaro thought of two long-time friends and jazz fans that he had befriended at a local jazz jam he hosts. In the past the friends had asked DeCristofaro if he knew of any local musicians that could use financial support. After the donors helped one local musician DeCristofaro put them in contact with, he thought about how it would be nice to have a scholarship for students that want to study music at Warren Wilson but can’t afford it.

“I wanted to find a way to help students who would like to study music at Warren Wilson College as music majors but might be having financial difficulty affording it,” said DeCristofaro.

DeCristofaro reached back out to the donors to tell them about his idea and ask if they would be interested in funding potential scholarships. After some consideration, the donors replied with their generous offer of one million dollars to develop scholarships for jazz-focused music students.

While Warren Wilson is always looking for donations for any department, this particular gift was unexpected.

“(The donation) was a lovely surprise in many ways,” said Renee Danger-James, Director of Development at Warren Wilson. “It’s one of the largest music gifts that Warren Wilson has gotten in many years.”

Danger-James, who works with major donors for the college, gave full credit to the music faculty for sourcing the donation. Danger-James explained that when it comes to donations, Warren Wilson is especially good at organic connection.

Kevin Kehrberg, chair of the music department, elaborated on the organic connection that Danger-James mentioned.

“The donation was more of an organic kind of development that developed out of Jason’s relationship with the donors in conversations over time,” said Kehrberg.

Kehrberg said that the donors are long-time fans of jazz and were interested in assisting musicians and music teachers for some time as a way to give back.

“They just love the music and they want to support it,” Kehrberg continued. “And, they want to support educators who are trying to pass along the knowledge and the techniques.”

The donation will be used to develop new scholarships, but it’s possible that it could be used in other ways to aid the development of the music department.

“At this time, the intention, in respect to the donors intentions, is to have the funds go towards supporting students,” said DeCristofaro. “There might be additional funds down the road that would go towards other things, but at least at this point in time, the intention is for it to go towards those students who are interested in being music majors.”

The endowments will be awarded based on financial need and merit, with a preference being given to BIPOC students. The gift will be available to both new students and current students. The music department has the flexibility to determine scholarship amounts based on the number of potential recipients. The aforementioned jazz scholarship will be the initial installment of the gift that is intended to equal one million dollars over time.

“One of the things that I think is really important to us too is really promoting the DEI goals that we are grateful the Black Student Union demanded earlier this year,” said DeCristofaro.

The music department has been holding departmental meetings and discussing with admissions different ways to make sure that they have adequate outreach to bring in BIPOC students and to make sure that people know about the new scholarships.

DeCristofaro said that aside from the scholarships, the music department, which has had substantial growth since the introduction of the music major, is working to slowly expand the courses the department offers over time. 

“You always want more students… Those numbers (of music majors) have been moving in the right direction and I think this scholarship will only help them keep doing that,” said Kehrberg.