(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University and Medford-based Lithia Motors have announced a philanthropic partnership that will serve as the bedrock of future innovations at SOU. Lithia’s commitment exceeds $12 million and is the largest-ever single gift to the university.
The contributions from Lithia Motors (NYSE: LAD) create the Lithia & GreenCars Momentum Fund, which will be used “to propel the university forward by investing in people and programs to implement the university’s and the company’s shared vision of sustainability and diversity.” The fund will also become a catalyst to invite other companies and individuals to participate in making a significant difference in both social and environmental change.
The Lithia & GreenCars Momentum Fund will support:
- SOU’s Lithia & GreenCars Scholarship Program, $5 million – Composed of student financial aid awards and a leadership development program designed to recruit and retain first-generation and/or minoritized populations traditionally underrepresented in higher education.
- Institute for Applied Sustainability, $4 million – Anchored by four distinguished faculty members and two administrators, the mission of the institute will be to identify and implement initiatives that move the university toward a sustainable campus. Institute members will collaborate with executives from Lithia to develop projects and programs, such as the creation of a national sustainability conference, an academic credential in corporate sustainability and a national sustainability demonstration site.
- The Lithia & GreenCars President’s Fund, $ 1million – The fund will support the university president’s efforts to develop new ways of solving complex problems and support innovation and entrepreneurship.
In addition, Lithia & GreenCars will “electrify” SOU by providing electric vehicles to the university and installing charging stations across campus.
Finally, the company will continue to support the Lithia & GreenCars/Raider Golf Tournament, building upon the many years of SOU athletic programs successes. Proceeds from the annual tournament provide scholarships to student-athletes.
“A gift of this magnitude and scope has the potential to increase our national profile,” SOU President Rick Bailey said. “This is a game-changer on two important values that our organizations share: sustainability and diversity. Lithia leaders have generously supported our university for many years, and this commitment creates momentum and a national platform to focus energy on two of the most important issues of our time.”
Lithia Motors was founded in Ashland in 1946. Sid DeBoer took the company public in 1968. Today, Lithia is one of Oregon’s two Fortune 200 companies and is now led by President and CEO Bryan DeBoer, an SOU alumnus. The company operates nearly 300 automotive dealerships across North America and recently became the largest new vehicle retailer in the world.
“The Lithia & GreenCars Momentum Fund provides critical financial support in our dual drive to promote higher education and corporate sustainability within our local communities,” Bryan DeBoer said. “These academic scholarships champion students from diverse and underserved backgrounds, and the Institute for Applied Sustainability will advance our commitment to sustainable best practices and the shift toward electrification in the auto industry.”
Institute for Applied Sustainability members
Vincent Smith, Ph.D., is a professor of environmental science and policy, director of the Institute for Applied Sustainability, and director of the Division of Business, Communication and Environment. Smith’s research explores the complex, coupled human-environment systems that shape the world in which we live. He actively partners with communities to understand socio-environmental problems and then apply that research in decision-making contexts. His work spans several traditional disciplinary boundaries including human ecology, environmental sociology, landscape ecology, agroecology and human geography.
Bret Anderson, Ph.D., is an associate professor of economics whose research interests range from providing targeted quantitative analyses to exploring more conceptual inquiries of place-based economics. Following the Almeda Fire, Anderson and several committed community members created the Local Innovation Lab in partnership with the university to provide community-based, college-to-career mentorship to empower future entrepreneurs and leaders.
Christopher Lucas, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Communication, Media and Cinema Program. His research has focused on cultural policy and the relationship between digital technologies and society, especially in the film and media industries. As a documentary filmmaker, he has produced and written for a number of award-winning documentaries on themes of sustainability and the environment, including work on fossil fuel infrastructure, environmental justice and water quality.
Pavlina McGrady, Ph.D., is an associate professor of business and coordinator of the Sustainable Tourism Management degree program. McGrady’s research focuses on sustainable tourism, exploring tourism businesses’ and local residents’ perceptions on tourism impacts, management and policies, to identify strategies for sustainable destination management. Her research also examines the barriers and predictors of corporate sustainability in the United States, as well as the role of leadership in a business’s journey toward sustainability.
Jessica Piekielek, Ph.D., is a cultural anthropologist with research and teaching interests in conservation, environmentalism, sustainability, and border and migration studies. She has fieldwork experience in the U.S., Mexico and Latin America. Piekielek is a professor of anthropology and chairs the Sociology and Anthropology program.
Rebecca Walker is the university’s Director of Sustainability. She joined the university in 2019 after 15 years with the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, a public agency of the Scottish government that focuses on the sustainability of Scotland’s natural resources and services. Walker recently steered the university to its first-ever “Gold” rating for campus-wide sustainability achievements, as measured by an evaluation system developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) and used to grade colleges and universities worldwide.
Scale of the Lithia & GreenCars Gifts
This new commitment from Lithia continues and expands upon a long tradition of support for SOU from LAD and its founding family. The company contributed $1 million for the construction of Lithia Motors Pavilion and another $1 million to fund scholarships for student-athletes in 2017. The 96,000-square-foot pavilion serves as the athletics home and indoor sports venue for SOU, and its construction earned a LEED Gold rating for sustainability.
Philanthropy is on a significant upswing at SOU, which early this year received a $3 million donation from the estate of legendary SOU wrestling coach Bob Riehm – at that time, another record-setting gift for the university. The gift from Riehm, who passed away in 2020, endowed the men’s wrestling head coach position at SOU and scholarships for the team’s student-athletes.
About Lithia & GreenCars (LAD)
LAD is a growth company focused on profitably consolidating the largest retail sector in North America through providing personal transportation solutions wherever, whenever and however consumers desire.