Skip Navigation

Norman Couple Establish Autism Scholarship

Norman Couple Establish Autism Scholarship

Jon and Cathryn Withrow have made a $240,000 gift to establish a new scholarship in the College of Allied Health.

University of Oklahoma President David L. Boren announced today that scholarship donors Jon and Cathryn Withrow have made a $240,000 gift to establish a new scholarship in the College of Allied Health, increasing the Norman couple’s total gifts to OU scholarships to almost $2 million.

Their newest gift is designated for doctoral students who will be conducting research and working with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders. It continues the Withrows’ exceptional and longtime support for scholarships and underscores their deep interest in autism.

“This special gift to help students who will devote their lives to helping others is typical of the Withrows’ generosity, which has provided opportunities to countless students,” Boren said.

The endowment is named the Cathryn and Jon R. Withrow Doctor of Science – Autism Endowed Scholarship Fund.

Kevin Rudeen, dean of the College of Allied Health, said, “We are grateful that Mr. and Mrs. Withrow have placed their confidence in the College of Allied Health to provide scholarships for physical therapists and occupational therapists in our doctoral program. We are excited to be able to extend these much-needed scholarships critical to the education and training of practicing health-care providers who will be working with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

“Educating therapists to work in this area is greatly needed in Oklahoma, and this gift is immensely helpful for bringing more rehabilitation therapists to this field, which will have a lasting impact to both the scholarship recipient and to those individuals with autism who will benefit by having these advanced therapists available in this specialized area.”

The drive behind the Withrows’ newest scholarship endowment came from Cathryn Withrow, who has served as an educational aide for students with autism in the Norman Public Schools, from pre-school to high school age.

“I fell in love with the students and learned so much from them as well as their families. It was during these years that I realized the tremendous needs of the entire autism community. With statistics revealing that one in 88 children are now being diagnosed with autism and that these children are largely an underserved segment of our society, Jon and I knew we wanted to do something to make a difference. It is an extremely complex disorder. The more we researched, the more research we realized needed to be done. Our interest has become a passion.”

She and her husband evaluated where and how they could best serve the autism community in Oklahoma. They determined that the graduate scholarship in the OU College of Allied Health would be a way they could have a positive impact.

Recipients of the scholarship will work closely with the Oklahoma Autism Network, which is housed in the College of Allied Health’s Tolbert Center. OAN facilitates planning, financing, and management of the Individuals with Autism and their Families, Oklahoma Plan.

As the state's autism information and referral source for families and professionals, the organization works with the statewide network of parent-led organizations focused on Autism Spectrum Disorders and provides a variety of training for state agencies, community organizations, families, and professionals as well as organizing and sponsoring the annual Statewide Autism Conference.

The Network also is involved with systems change activities such as training providers in SoonerStart, the state’s early intervention program, in the use of the Screening Tool for Autism in Two-Year Olds.

Mr. and Mrs. Withrow have made gifts for scholarships and fellowships that have helped students in four different colleges at OU over the past several years. Their involvement extends beyond offering financial support. They have taken a personal interest in the students they assist and have made meaningful friendships with recipients, sometimes attending OU events with them and following their progress after they graduate.

Jon Withrow said reading the letters from grateful student recipients of his scholarships “really opened my eyes as to how much they were needed. With their scholarships, they could study more, make better grades and, more important, stay in school.”

Jon Withrow, who earned his bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering and a master’s geological engineering from OU, is owner and president of Sundance Oil in Oklahoma City. Cathryn Withrow, after studying art education, graduated with a degree in fine arts from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She serves as vice president of Sundance Oil Company.