Editor’s note: This is the second story in a three-part series describing seven projects funded through a Gheens Foundation investment in the University of Louisville.

In 2019, the private Gheens Foundation contributed $2 million to support the University of Louisville and, particularly, the Strategic Plan announced by Neeli Bendapudi shortly after she was named president

About $500,000 of the Gheens funding was directed to immediate campus safety and security enhancements. The rest was to fund seven strategic initiatives identified and created by committees of faculty, students, staff, alumni and community members through the university’s strategic planning process. Those projects, which were submitted by the Work, Learn and Invest committees and evaluated for potential impact and implementability, include:

Research Mentoring Academy

Participation in undergraduate and graduate research positively impacts retention, especially for underrepresented and underprepared students. But to be truly effective, the research also should be accompanied by appropriate peer mentoring, positively affecting both mentor and mentee. The newly established Research Mentoring Academy is designed to provide a foundation of best practice guidelines for mentoring, an opportunity for graduate students to learn and practice mentoring skills, and an environment to provide undergraduate students with a mentored research experience. 

The program consists of three parts:

  • Developing skills and building confidence among graduate students through courses in communication, equity and inclusion, setting expectations and establishing boundaries, distorted thinking and growth mindset, and building a mentoring network
  • Practicing and reflecting. Graduate students mentor undergrads through a proposed research experience; graduates meet to reflect and build skills; undergrads present their research results at an institutional showcase; graduate students discuss their experience at a research conference; and both parties reflect on the experience for assessment.
  • Planning and achieving. Both parties conduct self-assessments to determine areas of strength and continued growth; graduates may continue to mentor undergraduates and will be paired with alumni mentors for continue learning; and all students will be supported in identifying skills for their career paths and the job market.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to offer a pipeline of mentoring training,” said Michelle Rodems, director for professional development, retention and success at the Graduate School. “We think this will contribute to the culture of quality mentorship overall at UofL – we know that graduate students who have training in mentoring and other personal and professional development skills end up having conversations about these with both their own mentors as well as their mentees. Both students and faculty benefit from an increased focus on effective research mentorship.”

Mentor/mentee teams will receive $1,500 per pair through the program, while alumni mentors will receive $100 honoraria for their participation. Gheens will cover the program costs, including administrative needs and the student funding, in its first year.

Cardinal Principles Marketing

UofL follows a set of guiding principles, the Cardinal Principles, that promote a culture of care, accountability, trust, equity and transparency. A proposal from a Great Places to Work subcommittee will ensure the Cardinal Principles are front and center for faculty, staff, students and visitors to campus.

The Gheens donation will help fund Cardinal Principles marketing initiatives to include display of the Cardinal Principles in high-visibility indoor and outdoor areas on all three campuses. In addition, the committee will print more than 2,000 t-shirts to be shared with incoming students during Welcome Week as well as intentionally place the Cardinal principles on the 2,000 Welcome Week schedule guides used by new students during Welcome Week.

“Creating bold, visible representations of the Cardinal Principles allows us to better tell our story,” said Glenn Gittings, co-chair of the subcommittee that proposed the campaign. “Sharing and leveraging that story allows us to grow partnerships and increase support. “

Welcome Week T-shirts and schedules already have been distributed, and the signage installation begins in the spring. Gheens funding is covering the cost of the marketing program, including production and installation of the campus signage and printing and distribution of the t-shirts.

Outdoor Lighting and Safety

A survey conducted among Physical Plant custodial staff revealed concerns, substantiated by light-meter studies, about safety and security on the Belknap Campus, particularly in areas near waste/recycling containers, parking lots and railroad underpasses.

The university used Gheens funding to improve lighting and install security cameras in these high-concern areas. Physical Plant/Maintenance and Physical Security Management will be responsible for upkeep of the equipment.

Key upgrades on Belknap Campus included installation of lighting and cameras in parking lots near the affiliated residence halls on the west side of campus and behind Thrust Theater on Floyd Street.

“Appropriate lighting plays a significant role in the safety and comfort of our students, particularly those who must walk across campus in the evenings and early mornings,” said Mark Watkins, UofL’s chief operating officer. “Students, faculty and staff on all our campuses will benefit from the security provided simply by making sure they have safe walkways to get to and from their vehicles and residence halls.”

 The upgrades are expected to be completed by the end of the fall semester.

Last week: Gheens funding supported programs designed to improve the campus culture and provide 24-hour access to student services.

Next week: The Center for Engaged Learning will combine services and programs to give UofL graduates a significant leg up in their future employment and/or education.



John Drees is a 35-year veteran in the Office of Communications and Marketing. As vice president, communications and marketing, he works closely with the president, provost and other senior administrators, oversees the Office of Communications and Marketing, including media relations, marketing and brand, broadcast, social media, internal communication, crisis communication, visitor services and special events and activities. A former sports editor for the Voice Newspapers, he was a regular contributor to a variety of publications, including the Kentucky Sports Report and the Courier-Journal. A poor but enthusiastic golfer, he is an avid Cardinal sports fan. He also loves the Detroit Lions, so pity him.