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Powerful Philanthropy: $4M Gift From Zelnaks Helps PCOM Think and Do

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With a $4 million gift, a Raleigh couple is putting NC State’s Poole College of Management on the fast track.

Steve and Judy Zelnak made the donation to endow the Stephen P. Zelnak Jr. Dean’s Chair in the College of Management. The Zelnaks’ gift gives Dean Ira Weiss flexibility to make strategic investments that will raise the college’s profile.

“It’s a dynamic environment, and if you’re not moving aggressively ahead, you’re slipping backward,” said Steve Zelnak, former chairman and CEO of Martin Marietta Materials. “So we thought it was very important to get Dean Weiss additional resources to work with.”

Poole is already a college on the rise. Over the last year, Bloomberg Businessweek has rated the college’s undergraduate supply-chain management program sixth nationally and the Jenkins part-time MBA program 20th in the country. Poets and Quants, a blog covering business schools, also rated the Jenkins program in its national top 20. The Zelnaks’ gift will help the college maintain its upward trajectory.

“What they’re really investing in is the future of this college,” Weiss said.

Poole College of Management Dean Ira Weiss (center) holds the first endowed deanship in NC State history.
Poole College of Management Dean Ira Weiss (center) holds the first endowed deanship in NC State history.

A graduate of Georgia Tech, Steve Zelnak led Martin Marietta as it grew from a division of Lockheed Martin into a publicly traded company in its own right. Under his leadership, Martin Marietta made five appearances on Fortune magazine’s list of America’s most admired companies. Judy Zelnak is also a committed philanthropist. She is the namesake of the Judy D. Zelnak Center of Hope, which is home to the Salvation Army’s social ministry programs in Wake County.

The Zelnaks’ bond with NC State dates to their arrival in Raleigh 32 years ago. The couple chose to support NC State over other area universities because of its focus on applied learning.

Application is very important at NC State, not just learning for the sake of learning,” said Steve Zelnak. “And at the end of the day, the world goes to the doers.”

The new dean’s chair expands the Zelnaks’ philanthropic footprint at Poole. In 1999, they established a term professorship in marketing innovation at the college. Five years later, they launched the Martin Marietta Endowed Scholarship Fund, which supports an incoming Poole freshman each year. Steve Zelnak was the college’s person of the year in 2010. He sits on the Poole College of Management advisory board and served eight years on the NC State Board of Visitors.

The Zelnaks’ gift continues a trend of growing philanthropic support for NC State. In the 2013-2014 fiscal year, donors gave or pledged $187 million to the university, including a $50 million gift from the Park Foundation to begin an endowment for the Park Scholarships. State funding helps maintain day-to-day operations at NC State, Weiss said, but philanthropy powers innovation.

“Private support allows us to really think about and execute on innovation,” he said. “It’s the private support that is the ‘do’ part of the ‘think and do’ process.”