By MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
As parents of a first-year student, Dennis and Susan Cross were grateful for the chance to get to know fellow Dickinson parents, faculty and staff members and connect with their daughter Sydney '17’s on-campus home. Six years after graduation day, they’re teaming up with Sydney to make a difference at her alma mater in personally meaningful ways.
The Crosses view their family’s scholarship endowment as a lasting investment in the future—and in Sydney’s own philanthropic legacy. It’s also an expression of appreciation for the education and opportunities Sydney has enjoyed.
The Crosses have long appreciated the value of a liberal-arts education. Dennis was a first-generation college student who would not have had the opportunity to take advantage of higher education, or to study abroad, without financial aid. And Susan was a second-generation college student and the first woman in her immediate family to attend college. They met at Vanderbilt, the only undergraduates in an advanced religion class.
Susan went on to earn an M.S. degree at Vanderbilt and completed a rigorous R.N. program at Massachusetts General Hospital. After working in intensive-care nursing, she got involved in kidney-transplant drug-rejection research and, after the birth of the second of their three children, she shifted to being a stay-at-home mom. Dennis added a master’s in divinity and a master’s in theology from Harvard University to his Vanderbilt B.A. After four years of working in retail banking, he shifted to higher education, launching a 34-year career in university advancement.
At Dickinson, Sydney majored in history and studied abroad in Copenhagen. She also interned in the advancement offices at Dickinson and Washington & Lee, got involved through an interfaith service trip, completed an unpaid nonprofit internship in NYC and forged a tight-knit circle of friends.
During those years, Dennis and Susan got involved with Parents’ Leadership Council and attended Homecoming & Family Weekends—one year, they even sat in on one of Sydney’s religion classes, taught by Dennis’ Harvard classmate. Dennis also helped out by interviewing prospective Dickinsonians who lived near their home in Lexington, Va.
The couple was impressed by the college’s rigorous academics, the quality of Sydney’s friendships and the ways that campus programs focused on students’ personal growth. As Sydney’s graduation neared, they encouraged her to support Dickinson, but Sydney needed no convincing: She co-chaired the senior gift campaign for her class.
After graduation, Sydney worked in development at Hamilton College, where she met her fiancé. A chip off her dad’s block, she now works as director of the annual fund at Washington & Lee. Through the years, the Crosses have matched each of Sydney’s annual gifts to Dickinson. And last winter they deepened their philanthropy by establishing the Cross Family Scholarship Fund.
The fund reflects the couple’s commitment to educational access and to the liberal-arts model.
“We know that education is crucial in helping talented students to build important skills like critical thinking, writing, communicating and analyzing, and in exposing young people to people other than those they grew up with, so they can understand and navigate the world,” says Susan. “And people of lower socioeconomic means don’t always have that opportunity to get a college education. This perpetuates the cycle of poverty.”
As Dennis notes, their continuing investment in Dickinson is also an investment in alumni—including Sydney—who benefit from the college’s success throughout their careers. The fact that they partner with Sydney in this endeavor makes it all the more significant to them, while creating a framework for their daughter’s future philanthropy in decades to come.
“It’s a win-win,” Dennis says, when asked for advice he’d give to fellow families of students and alumni. “And it’s not just for the top one percent of people, in terms of income. Everything you can give is a further investment in your child—as well as a way to invest in a quality education and the many talented young people who may not be able to take advantage of it without scholarship help.”
Published July 5, 2023