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Patterson Family Offers $3 Million to Boost UW Scholarships

Susan Patterson and her husband, author James Patterson, created a matching fund to increase the money available for student aid.

Susan Patterson and her husband, author James Patterson.

This fall, Susan Solie Patterson ’79, MFA’82 and her husband, bestselling author James Patterson, announced a $3 million legacy challenge gift, aiming to inspire planned gifts to UW–Madison. Susan has deep family ties to the UW, and James is passionate about education. The couple created the Patterson Family Scholarship Legacy Match not only to increase student aid, but also to encourage other Badger alumni and friends to make estate gifts to the university.

The new gift isn’t the Pattersons’ first. They had previously established several scholarship funds, particularly in support of students in nursing, education, and athletics. Although the UW is Susan’s alma mater and not her husband’s, she has convinced him to make UW–Madison a priority.

“I guess all my years of cheering for the Badgers got under Jim’s skin,” Susan says with a laugh. “He has the basketball schedules and football schedules, players, stats, and rankings memorized. He’s now as big a fan as I am.”

Susan was a Badger from birth. Both of her parents were UW grads: mother Lorraine Solie ’46 studied nursing, and father Orville Solie ’50, MS’51 studied art and English. But according to Susan, it was James who first suggested creating scholarship funds at the UW.

“My parents were deeply moved by this gesture, and it was a great way for us to honor their devotion and love for Wisconsin,” Susan says. “It was Jim’s idea, and I love that.”

The Patterson Family Scholarship Legacy Match will match a percentage of new student-focused planned gift commitments and donate those dollars to the Office of Student Financial Aid for immediate-use scholarships.

Scholarships have always been near to the Pattersons’ hearts, and they’re particularly vital at the UW today. In 2017 Chancellor Rebecca Blank created Bucky’s Tuition Promise, a guarantee to meet the full tuition need of any Wisconsin student from a family that earns the state’s median household income or less. Funds like the ones that the Pattersons support will help make that promise a reality. And Susan and James have seen the effects that these funds have on students’ lives.

“It’s been wonderfully touching to read the letters we’ve received from the UW scholarship students over the years,” she says. “And it was a very rewarding experience … to meet them, listen to their goals and dreams, and feel their appreciation firsthand. It was moving, and I was so impressed.”

Susan and James have shown a devotion to education. In August they released a follow up to last year’s New York Times best-selling picture book, Big Words for Little Geniuses. Their newest creation is titled Cuddly Critters for Little Geniuses, which teaches small children about different animals. (Look on the page of crawlers to spot “the mighty badger.”) James’s latest series, the Max Einstein books, is targeted at middle-school girls and aims to inspire an interest in science. The first book, Max Einstein and the Genius Experiment, is due out in October.

Susan hopes that the match she and her husband created will inspire other Badgers to support education at the UW.

“This is a critical time for the University of Wisconsin, the place we love so much,” she says. “We need to help support the school as much as possible, whether it’s through passionate letters to the governor or supporting the university financially — not only to maintain but to continue to grow and embellish its prowess as a world-class institution.”

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