Schenectady County

Alumna gives $10 million to Sage to support its School of Education

The Sage Colleges will be able to expand their educational outreach programs and improve teaching be

The Sage Colleges will be able to expand their educational outreach programs and improve teaching because of a $10 million donation from Donna Esteves, chairwoman of the Board of Trustees.

In honor of her gift, the education school has been renamed the Esteves School of Education.

Choking up with emotion during Thursday’s announcement, Esteves said she wanted to give back to an institution that means so much to her. She had previously donated a $1.5 million matching gift in 2010.

“These gifts for me are gifts of the heart because that’s what Sage is for me. It’s in my heart,” Esteves said.

The New Jersey native graduated from Russell Sage College in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in English. She taught in Louisiana bayou country and then in the New Orleans suburbs. She later earned a master’s degree in teaching from Tulane University and taught junior college. She then switched careers and sold Mary Kay cosmetics, at one point reaching 19th in the country in sales.

She and her husband then started Free Lighting Corp., a business that employed women to install energy-efficient lighting in homes. She sold that business in 2001 to SESCO Lighting and became chief financial officer of the company. Esteves joined the Sage board in 2005 and was elected chairwoman three years later.

Esteves said she hoped that these gifts would allow the Sage Colleges to take their rightful place as prestigious institutions of higher education.

The gift, which will be awarded in installments, will go to support the education school and its programs and faculty, as well as outreach initiatives, at the colleges in Troy and Albany.

Sage Colleges President Susan C. Scrimshaw said that Esteves’ gift — the institution’s largest ever — is more than it cost Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage to found Russell Sage College in 1916.

“This positions us to start the second century,” she said. “Now, we have an investment by another progressive woman, which will strengthen us today and carry us into the future.”

Scrimshaw said some of the money has already been donated and been used for improvements around the campuses, including renovating science laboratories and creating the Spring Speaker Series.

The money will help fund renovations on both campuses, bolster the endowment and increase the schools’ financial stability, according to Scrimshaw.

A portion of the gift, which officials are not disclosing, will be dedicated to the School of Education, which is home to about 430 undergraduate and 140 graduate students. Dean Lori Quigley said the gift will allow the school to continue and expand its community partnerships, such as those with the Albany and Troy school districts, create a distinguished chair for the school and bring in prestigious guest speakers and lecturers.

“Your gift will help to power the light of education from which great and wonderful things emanate,” she said.

Among its educational programs are the Help Yourself Academy, a twice-a-week school program for at-risk students in grades 3-8 in the Troy City School District. Sage is also developing Sage All Stars for Troy-area middle- and high-school students to address literacy, wellness and career education.

The school also has partnerships with other local school districts to give teaching students field experience.

It is in the process of renovating a building on the Troy campus for the Sage Educational Leadership and Learning Academy, which will house these outreach programs.

Esteves said she is pleased with the school’s direction and pleased to help the school because it trains teachers who will be teaching children.

“Education holds the future of our country,” she said.

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