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Will and Helen Webster Make Major Gift to Endow Scholarships and Provide Support for Academic Programs

cg/5-9-13

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: OU Public Affairs, (405) 325-1701

NORMAN – The University of Oklahoma has received a major gift from Will and Helen Webster of California to endow scholarships and to provide key support for programs and projects in OU’s Honors and Education colleges. Their gift is especially unusual because Mr. and Mrs. Webster have never lived in Oklahoma or attended OU but came to know about the University more than 30 years ago through a faculty member at the OU Health Sciences Center.  

 “The University has no more loyal and generous supporters than Will and Helen Webster,” said OU President David L. Boren, who made the announcement at the May meeting of the OU Board of Regents in Norman. “We are deeply honored that they decided to join the OU family by choice.”

“Over the years of my involvement with OU, President David Boren has built a unique legacy, and Helen and I are pleased to be a part of it,” Will Webster said.

A portion of the Webster’s gift will endow a Scholars Program, which will provide substantial awards in the range of $4,000 to $6,000 annually to academically talented students who also have significant financial need.  Recipients of the scholarship will be eligible to receive the award each of their undergraduate years at OU, providing they continue to meet the established criteria.

The Websters’ new scholarship gift is the most recent to OU’s top-priority Campaign for Scholarships, which has now raised $217 million in gifts and pledges. Will Webster is a member of the Campaign’s leadership committee. He and his wife have long supported scholarships for OU students, including establishing a Sooner Heritage Endowment, which is one of OU’s largest, helping up to 70 students each year.

Another portion of their latest gift will fund the Joe C. and Carole Kerr McClendon Honors College’s Informal Reading Groups and establish a new program to help students with their public speaking and interviewing skills. The Honors College currently manages 80 individual reading groups annually with approximately 400 students participating.  Mr. and Mrs. Webster’s gift will provide funds to purchase hardback books and expand the popular Informal Reading Groups to others at OU who would like to participate.  

The new program to develop public speaking/interviewing skills will build on earlier programs – such as the Presentation Skills Workshop – to help students learn about effective public speaking techniques and, more important, to give them opportunities to develop their public speaking skills through frequent practice. The new program will be based on a combination of informal optional programs and one-hour courses for academic credit.

The portion of their gift to the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education will provide support for the college’s Academic Advising Center, which is the first stop for new education students and where all undergraduate and international travel advising takes place. 

Their gift will upgrade the college’s internal data system, transitioning all paper files to electronic files to expedite advising and enhance the overall student advising experience.

In 1982, the only thing the California residents knew about Oklahoma was “the song.” Today, they are founding members of OU’s Seed Sower Society, a designation bestowed by the University on those whose gifts to OU total $1 million or more. Will Webster has been honored by OU with the 2008 OU Regents’ Alumni Award for Outstanding Service and the 2010 “Amicus Medicinae” or Friend of Medicine Award.

Mr. and Mrs. Webster became acquainted with OU 30 years ago through Dr. Warren “Sonny” Jackman at the OU Health Sciences Center. Webster and Jackman were both new to electrophysiology, which itself was a new specialty within cardiology. Dr. Jackman was a cardiologist and electrophysiologist, and Webster was an engineer who owned a small company making custom heart catheters. Electrode catheters are key to electrophysiology, and over the next few years, Webster was able to supply Dr. Jackman with the catheters to further the science of cardiac arrhythmias.

Webster first created the closely spaced electrodes for mapping and later invented a steerable electrode catheter that could map and pinpoint defective tissues in the heart. He and Jackman worked closely together to develop better catheters that ultimately led to successful radio frequency ablation. This ablation procedure is now a universally accepted treatment program for cardiac arrhythmias, and OU’s leadership in this area has attracted patients from around the world.

“I consider the day Sonny Jackman called me as one of the luckiest in my life – not only because of the business that ensued – but because I got to be a part of developing electrophysiology to become a therapeutic treatment that has improved the quality of life for millions of people worldwide,” said Webster.

Mr. and Mrs. Webster’s first gifts, beginning in 1994, were for the arrhythmia program.

“In the beginning, our gifts to OU were motivated by what I felt I owed to Sonny Jackman and OU, but soon I discovered how unique the University of Oklahoma is: it’s unique in location, it’s beautiful, and it is an outstanding academic institution. OU is very, very special to us,” he said.

The Websters’ interest in OU is far-ranging, including the National Weather Center, the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History and OU’s American Organ Institute, to name a few. Still, their greatest devotion is to OU’s Heart Rhythm Institute.

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