$1.75M gift to fund VCU School of Education scholarships

Largest gift in school history honors legacy of two retired professors

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Woman in purple blazer.
Elise Blankenship, Ed.D.

Elise Blankenship, Ed.D., a retired associate professor in the VCU School of Education, recently pledged a $1.75 million estate gift to provide scholarships for full-time upper-level and graduate students in the school. The gift is the largest single donation in the history of the School of Education.

Blankenship’s pledged gift will be added to the Jean E. Lokerson and M. Elise Blankenship Endowed Scholarship in Education, which Blankenship previously created on behalf of her friend and colleague, Jean Lokerson, Ph.D., emerita associate professor at the school.

“We are honored and thrilled to receive this generous gift from Elise Blankenship on behalf of Jean,” said Andrew Daire, Ph.D., dean of the VCU School of Education. “Through this fund, we will keep their dream alive to teach the teachers of the future so they can transform the lives of those we serve in our communities.”

Blankenship and Lokerson came to VCU in 1974 to enhance the school’s newly approved graduate program in learning disabilities. They taught at the school for more than 22 years, and both remained active at VCU until Lokerson’s death in 2016.

Two women, one in a red blazer at left and one in a blue blazer at right.
Elise Blankenship, Ed.D., a retired associate professor in the VCU School of Education, and Jean E. Lokerson, Ph.D., emerita associate professor at the school. (Courtesy photo)

“I cannot express enough, how very much I enjoyed my tenure at the VCU School of Education, and the same joy was expressed by Jean so many times,” Blankenship said. “We truly appreciated the support of the administration; President Eugene Trani; our dean, Dr. John Oehler [dean of the school from 1985 to 2002]; and our dedicated, competent colleagues in the school.

“Best of all was the joy of working with our students in the learning disabilities program. They were enthusiastic, energetic and committed to their education. They were indeed, the very best!”

Blankenship said the turning point of her early teaching career came in 1964 when she was selected to study at Syracuse University under a federal grant awarded to William M. Cruickshank, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Special Education.  There she learned techniques for classroom modifications and instructional techniques for learning-disabled students in a public school setting.

“My life changed forever after my experience at Syracuse,” Blankenship said. “I knew then that I wanted to go on to higher education and become a teacher of teachers in a university setting.”  

Blankenship received a specialist degree in special education from Syracuse and a doctorate of education from the University of Houston.

Even though they grew up in different parts of the country — Blankenship in Louisiana and Lokerson in Maryland — they had almost identical educational backgrounds. Both earned degrees in elementary education and in human growth and development at the University of Maryland and advanced degrees from Cruickshank’s program at Syracuse University. And with doctoral degrees in hand, both became university educators in special education with a concentration in learning disabilities.

During their time at the VCU School of Education, Lokerson and Blankenship were known as pioneers in the area of educating teachers and parents in understanding other dimensions of learning disabilities. In the early 1970s, theyco-developed learning disabilities simulation modules, which provided hands-on experience toward understanding cognitive function and dysfunction in child learning. As a result of their work, they traveled across the country and internationally, enhancing the understanding of learning disabilities.

“The Lokerson-Blankenship Endowed Scholarship — and Elise Blankenship’s generous estate gift — are a fitting reflection of their legacy, and it will help prepare educators for many years to come,” said Edward G. Kardos, senior director of development for the School of Education.

Learn more about planned giving at the VCU School of Education.