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The power of recognition: Harrison family's legacy of giving

Any story about Stan and Doris Harrison, and their scholarship support for The Ohio State University, should begin with a boy singing the National Anthem at a Rotary event decades ago.

Stan Harrison, a 1958 electrical engineering honors alumnus from Ohio State, was invited to speak that day as a nationally-recognized industry leader. It became clear to all, he said, the true hit of the day was the young singer who kicked off the event with his impressive voice.

Stan and Doris Harrison speak with Ohio State University College of Engineering Dean David Williams.

Motivated to show other people such talent, the Harrisons immediately worked to get him a scholarship to attend a summer music camp. Once enrolled, the young singer excelled, so much so that he was later presented a full scholarship to music school.Ultimately, the teen decided not to accept, opting instead for a more traditional education.

Stan Harrison often wondered what became of the singer. Thirty-five years later, he finally got his answer. That same talented young man, now a Baptist pastor living in Oklahoma, called the Harrisons and invited them to his next sermon.

There they learned that he never really gave up on his love of music. The pastor testified to the audience how the Harrisons made a difference in his life. Their support of his talent was something he never forgot.

The story reflects upon why the Harrisons have continued to give back throughout their lives, through scholarship and award programs. Not only to college-bound students in southern Ohio, but to Ohio State faculty as well. Recognition of talent is often powerful in and of itself.

“Engineering has been good for me,” Harrison said. “If it makes a difference in people’s lives, why not?”

Ohio State's College of Engineering recently held its annual awards ceremony, during which the couple’s prestigious Harrison Faculty Award was presented to Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Jin Wang for his leadership in electric power research and education.

Stan and Doris Harrison, with ECE Professor Jin Wang

The couple created the award because they saw the value in encouraging talented faculty.

“I felt we had to do something,” Harrison said. “We didn’t see anybody else doing this at the time we started it.”

In 2011, the longtime scholarship donors also made a new commitment to support future Buckeye engineers, by providing renewable four-year scholarships for up to four engineering students from Gallia, Jackson and Meigs counties in southern Ohio.

Harrison said the scholarship fund was originally established to help the university accomplish its goal of creating new funding opportunities for students in all 88 Ohio counties, especially southern Ohio, where few students were pursuing engineering.

“(The university) recognized the significance of (our fund) to the three-county area,” he said. “Because of the way they managed it, it’s worked out even better than we architected it.”

Although they spent decades living in different states, the Harrisons—who met and grew up in Gallia County, Ohio—remain focused on helping new generations find success at Ohio State. They now see the scholarship funds as an extension of their family, with a legacy they hope will continue from generation to generation.

Growing up on a farm as a child, Harrison said, led him to engineering by default. When machines broke down, the family figured out how to fix them.

“My father and brother ... could fix anything that had to do with farm equipment or cars,” he said. “When there was some kind of electrical problem, I could always figure it out. It was the natural order of things.”

He later expanded on this education in the Army and studying electrical engineering at Ohio State, forming the basis of knowledge in a rapidly-changing industry full of opportunity.

“Ohio State taught me AC/DC, antennas, air/ground communication,” Harrison said. “It was a well-grounded education.”

He went on to become president and chief operating officer of the BDM Corporation, a Northern Virginia-based knowledge company, retiring in the fall of 1988. He also served as founding dean emeritus of the Harry F. Byrd, Jr. School of Business at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia; and as chairman and president of The Potomac Foundation, a non-profit corporation in Fairfax, Virginia dedicated to the advancement of knowledge in science and technology, education, social development and defense.

Harrison holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of New Mexico and a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Ohio State. He earned honorary doctorate degrees from Ohio State and Shenandoah University, as well as honorary professorships from two universities in China. He has received academic, business and service awards and is a member and Paul Harris Fellow of Rotary International.

In recognition of his achievements, Ohio State named Harrison a Distinguished Alumnus in 1977 and he received the College of Engineering’s Benjamin G. Lamme Meritorious Achievement Medal in 1980.

by Ryan Horns, Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Tags: Alumni, Giving