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Endowing Much-Needed Scholarships for Graduate Students

by Tom Hanlon / Jul 15, 2020

Elbert and Barb Gentry

Barb Gentry knows how challenging it can be to pause a career and return for a graduate degree. So, she and her husband Elbert created a scholarship specifically for graduate students in the College of Education.

A conversation with their daughter turned into Barb and Elbert Gentry creating a scholarship for graduate students in the University of Illinois’ College of Education.

“Our daughter, Kimberly Patton, had quit her job as a special education teacher after 10 years to get her PhD,” Barb explains. “She said that in many cases, there’s not much scholarship money for people who quit their jobs to return to school for a graduate degree.

“As an Illinois State Scholar when I was in school, I appreciated the funds. They really helped me. We realized there was a need to support graduate students who had paused their careers to get an advanced degree. So, we contacted the College of Education and said ‘Can we do this?’ And they said ‘Of course!’”

The Elbert L. and Barbara A. Gentry Scholarship was first set up six years ago as a distribution through their individual retirement account. Each year, it goes to a graduate student, as chosen by the College.

“We’ve endowed our first scholarship, and now we’re endowing a second one,” Barb says. “We want to relieve the stress on graduate students, make it a little easier for them to get their advanced degree. There are a lot of scholarships available for undergrads.”

Barb knows the financial needs and pressures on graduate students. She received three degrees from the University of Illinois: both a BS and an MS in education for teaching math, and a PhD in Curriculum & Instruction, earned 23 years after she had received her MS. “I went back and got a PhD as an older student,” she says. “You have children, a husband, obligations above and beyond. I know what it’s like.”

Elbert was employed at the University of Illinois’ Office of Planning and Budgeting from 1988 to 2008, when he retired. Barb’s connection with the university goes back much further—beginning when she was 10 years old and attended her first football game at Memorial Stadium. “My cousin was going to school here, and I got to see his dorm room,” she recalls. “I fell in love with the campus. I ended up getting a full ride to Illinois College in Jacksonville, but I really wanted to go to the University of Illinois.”

She began her teaching career in 1966, teaching junior high math in a few different school districts and then becoming an instructor at Parkland College in 1976, teaching computer science and math, before retiring in 2008.

The scholarship that she and Elbert created helps them stay connected to the University. And, as a bonus, they get to connect with their scholarship recipients as well, at an annual brunch that honors students and donors.

“This past meeting, our recipient was a guest speaker, so that was awesome,” Barb says. “It’s great to meet the recipients, to get to know them a bit, to hear what the scholarship is doing for them. It’s truly a pleasure to be able to give back.”

If you would like to make a gift or discuss endowing a scholarship, please contact the College of Education’s Office of Advancement at or call 217-244-7228.