In a 1995 issue of The Nubian Message commemorating the legacy of Dr. Augustus Witherspoon and the dedication of the Witherspoon Student Center in his memory, NC State student Stephanie Cogdell wrote, “He’s been a mentor, role model and someone who challenged me constantly… He touched almost everything that I was involved with.”
Now, 24 years later as an alumna, Cogdell is continuing to honor Witherspoon. She has established a planned gift that benefits, in part, the Black Alumni Society’s Augustus Witherspoon Graduate Scholarship Endowment and Lawrence M. Clark Memorial Undergraduate Scholarship funds.
“I was very close to both [Clark and Witherspoon]. They helped me get through school,” Cogdell said. Clark, associate provost and professor of mathematics in the College of Education, was instrumental in developing campus programs focused on African-American student experiences, including the African American Symposium.
Witherspoon, the second African-American student to earn a Ph.D. at NC State and the university’s first African-American professor, was Cogdell’s academic reference when she pledged her sorority and offered guidance during her tenure as president of the National Pan-Hellenic Council. “He supported me a lot, up until his passing [in 1994],” she said. “I feel charged with making sure these scholarships are supported. I’m setting an example.”
Growing up, Cogdell moved around with the frequency common in military families like hers. “When I got to NC State,” she said, “that was a sense of community for me. I got to know people and establish long-term relationships. It’s a sense of home.”
She graduated in 1992 with a degree in psychology, but NC State still feels like home. Not only does Cogdell live in the Raleigh area, but as an active volunteer, she’s never far from campus. She began volunteering with the Black Alumni Society at the suggestion of fellow alumnae Tracey Ray and Diane Becton, assisting with efforts to encourage African-American alumni to return for homecoming. After the success of that endeavor, Cogdell became president of the Black Alumni Society and eventually joined the boards for the Alumni Association and the Wolfpack Club. She was recognized for her leadership with the Alumni Association’s Young Alumna of the Year award in 2010.
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When Cogdell makes one of her frequent trips to campus, she prioritizes introducing herself to students at events. As a human resources manager at Intrahealth International, a global public health firm, she looks for ways to connect students with the organization’s opportunities in finance, business development and communications.
In addition to her board service, Cogdell is actively involved on campus as a mentor and advisor for the Mu Omicron chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc, of which she was a member. “I hear the students’ stories about the money they need for school,” she said. “I remember needing book money. It was easier back then because tuition was lower. Kids today have a lot more stress than we did. I just want to make sure that the tools are there for students to be successful without having to worry about how they’re going to pay their tuition.”
Cogdell’s recent planned gift, along with her annual support of NC State, is one way to make sure those tools for success stay accessible for years to come. “It’s a good feeling to be able to give back in this way,” she said. “You have to leave what you have to someone. Why not leave it to the university, where your name will be remembered? A planned gift is a way to leave a legacy.”
In addition to the Clark and Witherspoon scholarship endowments, her planned gift will also support the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the women’s basketball program. While she can be found at any number of NC State athletics events, she enjoys women’s basketball the most. “I want to support Coach [Wes] Moore and all the things he’s been doing the university,” she said.
Wolfpack athletics were Cogdell’s introduction to NC State – in particular, watching Coach Jim Valvano and the 1983 men’s basketball team make their championship run in the NCAA tournament. Her time as a student overlapped with Valvano’s coaching tenure, and she was impressed by his commitment to the university. Valvano, she said, was a supporter of the students who organized under the leadership of Witherspoon and Clark for the creation of a dedicated space for the African American Cultural Center.
One reason Cogdell continues to volunteer and work with undergraduates is to ensure they have guidance and an appreciation for NC State’s history, such as the creation of the center, which opened in 1991. “At one point, it was hard for African-American students to get into the university. And now the university competes for African-American students,” she said.
In her 1995 letter about Witherspoon, Cogdell concluded by saying, “Who he was often reminds of who I want to be.”
As a volunteer, advocate and dedicated supporter of NC State and its students, she has carried on her mentor’s legacy and created an enduring one of her own.