Ervin Scholars celebrate and reflect on program’s past 25 years

Among the most enduring contributions the late James E. “Jim” McLeod made to Washington University in St. Louis was the Ervin Scholars Program, which he founded in 1987 to attract extraordinary students to WUSTL, foster diversity on campus, and pay tribute to the institution’s first African-American dean, John B. Ervin, PhD.

Twenty five years later, more than 500 Ervin Scholars alumni and current Ervin Scholars gathered on campus and at the St. Louis Union Station Marriott Sept. 14-16 for a weekend full of events to celebrate the milestone, take stock of the program, and pay tribute to the late Ervin and McLeod.

Ervin, who was committed to the education of all people, knew the importance of education in his life, seeing it as preparation for a life of leadership and service.

That commitment to leadership and service in the community is expected of all Ervin Scholars, says Margaret West, PhD, associate director of the Ervin program and assistant dean in the College of Arts & Sciences.

“Twenty-five years ago, Dr. Ervin believed that, if individuals were well educated, it enabled them to do better for themselves and to do better for their communities,” West says. “As a program, we take pride in making certain that we nurture leadership and service and we make sure that these values don’t get lost. They must remain firmly planted over the next 25 years to come.”

“Celebrating 25 Years of Excellence: Our Names and Our Stories” featured a keynote address Sept. 14 by civil rights pioneer Ruby Bridges, who told her own story of being the first African-American child to integrate an all-white elementary school in the South as a 6-year-old in 1960.

Bridges spoke to a capacity audience in Graham Chapel and then signed copies of her book, Through My Eyes: Ruby Bridges, which chronicles her historical role in integrating the New Orleans public school system.

Ervin’s widow, Jane Ervin, spoke at the 25th Anniversary Celebration Banquet, held Sept. 15 at the Marriott. More than 850 current and former Ervin Scholars, their families and Ervin Program friends attended the banquet. Ervin alumni spoke during the banquet about their challenges and successes, reflecting on how the tenets of the program — academics, leadership, community service and a commitment to diversity — positively impacted their lives.

John Ervin, a nationally renowned black educator, scholar and author, was dean of the School of Continuing Education (now University College in Arts & Sciences) at Washington University from 1968-1977.

Clara McLeod, the widow of Jim McLeod, who was WUSTL’s vice chancellor for students and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, greeted Jane Ervin after her presentation.

Throughout the weekend, conference activities intersected with university tributes to McLeod, beginning with the dedication ceremony for McLeod’s Way, a new landscaped gathering place along the path from the newly rebuilt Forsyth Underpass to the Clock Tower on the South 40.

On Sept.16, a bench in Brookings Quadrangle was dedicated in memory of McLeod.

Four Ervin alumni sat down together during the anniversary celebration to reminisce about their time at WUSTL, discuss what being an Ervin Scholar meant to them and focus on the legacy of Ervin and McLeod, who directed the program since its founding until his death Sept. 6, 2011, after a two-year battle with cancer. alumni discuss the impact of the program.