Philanthropy at Work: Fred Anderson, Dennis and Claudia Van Gerven

Faculty gift spurs first-generation CU-Boulder scholarship

Philanthropy At Work

Fred Anderson

Fred Anderson

Professor Fred Anderson directs the University of Colorado Boulder’s Honors Program, earned a doctorate from Harvard, has received prestigious fellowships and has taught in the history department since 1983.

He also was the first in his family to attend college.

Anderson knows firsthand how intimidating an institution like CU-Boulder can be. Though he grew up near Boulder, he wound up choosing to pursue undergraduate studies at Colorado State University, where a professor took him under his wing and fostered his interest in academics and love for history.

Because of Anderson’s experience, and inspiration from his work with hundreds of first-generation Honors Program students, he is passionate about the need to attract first-generation students to CU-Boulder.

“It keeps the institution from becoming ingrown,” Anderson said. “Once you are though the magic door, you benefit. But the door is pretty hard to get through if you don’t understand the system.”

Dennis Van Gerven

Dennis Van Gerven

That’s why Anderson established the Claudia and Dennis Van Gerven First Generation Merit Scholarships, in honor of anthropology professor Dennis Van Gerven and his wife, Claudia, an Honors Program instructor. The scholarships focus on first-generation students from Harrison, a Colorado Springs high school from which students face challenges but also possess strong potential for honors program success.

The Van Gervens also were first-generation college students.

“When I started at the University of Utah,” Dennis said, “not a single member of my family — mother, father, uncles or aunts — had graduated even from high school. When I told my high school counselor I intended to enroll in college, he laughed me out of his office and said, ‘You’re kidding me. You’re going to become a truck driver just like your old man.’”

After his freshman year, Dennis almost did drop out; he credits his wife for getting him through the college experience. For the past 37 years, he has been a mainstay in the anthropology department, winning numerous teaching awards. He directed the Honors Program for 10 of those years and is exceedingly proud of increasing the diversity of the program. The Van Gervens are among 40 donors to the scholarship.

“First-generation students bring the university its lifeblood, because the university is a place where people are free to express different ideas and values,” Dennis said. “What ideas would be expressed if all of our students are the same? We need to be continuously recharging that idea.”

Anderson is a passionate advocate for faculty support of CU.

“I go around and make a pitch (to peers at CU) and suggest they might deduct something from their paychecks each month,” Anderson said. “I tell people that anything helps. If I could get on average 100 professors each to donate $10 per month, that would produce $12,000 a year for the fund.”

As Dennis Van Gerven prepares to retire later this year, he reflects on the importance of attracting and providing financial support for first-generation students.

“I have taught over 25,000 students, and occasionally I have taught an honors class of 15 where people talk and exchange ideas and help each other grow,” Dennis said. “There is nothing more important to that class than having different voices.”

To make a charitable payroll deduction toward a CU program of your choosing, visit To support the Van Gerven scholarship fund, see


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