Giving: Winter 2017
Author: Chris Broderick
Posted: January 27, 2017

Raising more than $1 million for students

THE UNIVERSITY’S signature fund-raising event, the Simon Benson Awards Dinner, drew more than 1,600 people to the Oregon Convention Center on November 3 and raised more than $1 million for scholarships and other student support.

PSU honored alumni and philanthropists Keren Brown Wilson PhD ’83 and Michael DeShane MA ’71, PhD ’77 and alumnus Tom Fink ’71 for their years of public service and scholarship support for PSU students. The annual event is organized by the PSU Foundation and has raised more than $9 million for PSU since it began in 1999 to honor the memory of Portland’s pioneering philanthropist and timber baron Simon Benson.

The evening included an announcement that the PSU Foundation has created the Wiewel Presidential Scholars Program for Equal Access Scholarships, a permanent endowment to honor President Wim Wiewel’s longtime commitment to help students with financial need.

“Providing opportunities has been my No. 1 goal, and I’m grateful to the donors who are creating this fund,” said Wiewel, who will step down next summer after nine years of leading Portland State. He plans to remain in Oregon, return as a part-time faculty member and continue his advocacy for PSU.

TWO CURRENT scholarship students also spoke at the dinner, thanking attendees for their support, which has enabled them to not only be the first in their families to attend college but to also thrive at PSU.

Alexandra Van, a senior sociology major, recounted how she grew up amid violence and chaos at home and struggled to graduate from high school. A scholarship founded by Tom and Marilyn Fink enabled her to attend PSU, where she is immersed in the School of Social Work with plans to obtain a master’s degree so she can help young people overcome the kind of family and poverty hardships that she faced.

Jean-Luc Toku, a sophomore business major, immigrated to the United States at age 6 from West Africa with no knowledge of English. Today, thanks to a Roslyn Farrington Scholarship, he is studying finance and marketing and is an accomplished long jumper on PSU’s track team.

Keren Brown Wilson and her husband, Michael DeShane, have devoted their lives to helping people with limited means age with dignity through assisted living alternatives to nursing homes and other programs. They also have a legacy of funding scholarships and providing student support.

Tom Fink, who graduated from PSU with an economics degree and was the first in his family to attend college, has also given back to PSU with scholarships and many years of active alumni leadership. Fink told the crowd that education not only transformed his life and the lives of his family members, but it needs to be society’s most cherished value in creating opportunities for future generations.

The evening, which was hosted by KATU-TV anchor Steve Dunn, ended with a comedy routine from former “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno. For more information on the PSU Foundation, visit

Caption: Sophomore Jean-Luc Toku thanked donors for supporting PSU students, faculty and programs at the 2016 Simon Benson Awards Dinner.