A $1 million gift has been made to the University of Arizona to support Worlds of Words, or WOW, the largest collection of global literature for children and young adults in the nation, and the second largest in the world.
The gift was made by the collection's director, Kathy G. Short, and her husband, Jerry Short, who wanted to endow the director's position in order to ensure that Short's successors are leading scholars who can further advance the collection.
In recognition of Short's efforts to create and grow the collection, Bruce Johnson — the dean of the College of Education, which houses WOW — has asked her to be the first holder of the chair, which has been named the Founders Endowed Chair in Education for Global Children's and Adolescent Literature.
The WOW collection, which includes about 40,000 books, began in 2007 with the idea of exposing children to other cultures.
"We can encourage children to not immediately judge a culture that differs from their own as wrong, but as simply another way we live in the world," said Kathy, a professor of teaching, learning and sociocultural studies who joined the College of Education in 1989.
Fostering intercultural and international understanding is a priority for the University of Arizona, said UA President Robert C. Robbins.
"Increasingly, our students, and the future students of the teachers who graduate from the UA, must be prepared to collaborate with people from all over the world," Robbins said. "Because of the Shorts' gift, and through this incredible literature collection, the university and the College of Education are positioned to lead in this area. I am very grateful to the Shorts for their amazing generosity."
Students at every level use the WOW collection in their studies, Johnson said.
"We attract a number of excellent doctoral students who come here because of Kathy Short's work and this collection," he said. "We have a long tradition of preparing college professors who are now at key universities around the world because this is the place to come to do that kind of work."
WOW serves as a robust curricular and research tool for students and faculty in the College of Education. It is also an outreach hub for K-12 students and teachers throughout the community and the world.
In addition to hosting educational events for families, school groups and teachers, WOW has had a steady presence at the Tucson Festival of Books and in classrooms and libraries. WOW's website includes a searchable database of global literature, and three WOW journals are published quarterly.
The endowment will be used to expand WOW's programming, Kathy said. Her initial plans include working with teachers to develop after-school global culture clubs. She also is exploring potential collaborations with the National Autonomous University of Mexico to build WOW's Spanish-language collection and start a community program to promote the joy of reading based on similar programs in Mexico.
Continuing to develop curricular strategies for teachers and education students to effectively engage students around global literature will remain a strong focus area, she said.
The couple has made previous gifts to support WOW. When they decided to make a major gift, they chose to endow a chair for two reasons, they said.
"Every one of us has to be able to think globally. I see it having an increasing importance in terms of teacher education and in terms of what we offer children in schools," Kathy said.
The UA's Eminent Scholars Program, established to help the university recruit and retain top faculty, also was a major factor. Through the program, donated funds are augmented in order to grow the endowment faster and to provide more immediate support than is typical with an endowed chair.
"It pushed us over the edge. There were some real benefits to acting now," said Jerry, who is a wealth management adviser.
The Eminent Scholars Program represents a significant investment by the university and the state of Arizona, made in recognition that growing faculty support is critical to the university's future, said UA Foundation President and CEO John-Paul Roczniak.
"It's inspiring to see the Shorts giving to continue and build upon Kathy's life's work. They've seen firsthand the effect her dedication to Worlds of Words has had in our community and for the College of Education," said Roczniak, who also is vice president of development for the UA.
After 45 years of marriage, "it's hard not to catch that passion" from his wife, Jerry said.
It was important to the couple to make a gift now rather than leave the money to the collection as a planned gift, he said.
"We want to do what we can while we're living," Jerry said. "And we want Kathy's work to go on for many, many years after we're gone."