Linda and Harlan Martens

Gift from alums Harlan and Linda Martens to fund USC Dornsife scholarships

$15 million pledge helps ensure the university’s ability to offer financial aid for deserving students

December 08, 2016 Lynn Lipinski

Harlan Martens ’70, JD ’74 and his wife, Linda ’69, have pledged $15 million for an endowed fund to support scholarships and fellowships at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Their donation will launch the Martens Scholars Program, which will help top students come to USC. The scholarship and fellowship program will support current and future generations of students, providing full and partial tuition for undergraduates, as well as one- and two-year fellowships for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

Endowments like this help ensure the university’s ability to offer compelling financial aid packages that bring college within reach for deserving students.

“This exceptionally generous gift from Harlan and Linda Martens will directly benefit our students, as it invests in their extraordinary potential and provides life-changing opportunities that will remain with them throughout their lives,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias. “This program also builds on the legacy of steadfast support that the Martenses have shown for their alma mater over the years. We are so grateful for their philanthropic leadership.”

A long-standing commitment

The Martenses met as classmates in a comparative religion class at USC in the late 1960s and USC has remained a central part of their lives — even after Harlan Martens’ successful career as an attorney for the Exxon Mobil Corp. drew them from Southern California to Texas. They’ve supported USC through membership in USC Associates and the naming of Martens Plaza, located near Leavey Library, and in 2013 their gift established the Linda and Harlan Martens Endowed Director’s Chair for the USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute at USC Dornsife. Their endowment of the Linda and Harlan Martens Economic History Forum helped draw dozens of leading economists, accountants, scholars and politicians from around the world to a global summit on the Greek economic crisis in April.

Generous scholarships are among the most important resources we have for attracting the brightest students to USC Dornsife.

Amber Miller

“Generous scholarships are among the most important resources we have for attracting the brightest students to USC Dornsife,” said Amber Miller, dean of USC Dornsife. “We are thankful for the Martenses’ remarkable gift and their long-standing commitment to our academic community. I am confident that their vision will be reflected in the distinct achievements made by each of our USC Martens Scholars.”

Through their latest gift to student scholarships, the Martenses have underscored their lifelong commitment to the transformative nature of education and to growing USC to be a world-class institution.

“The most important investment any of us can make is in education,” Harlan Martens said. “With these scholarships, we’re investing in people and we believe this will be repaid many times over in benefit to society.”

The first recipient

Kelly Chang, a junior at USC Dornsife, received the first Martens scholarship this year, allowing her to uphold family tradition by attending USC as her father and sister did. A transfer student from the University of California, Irvine, Chang shares the Martens’ belief in the power of education.

An avid volunteer, Chang learned the joys of leading a classroom on a Los Angeles Zoo-sponsored research trip to South Africa. The enthusiastic students she met there inspired her to focus on becoming a teacher to help children in tough circumstances develop a love of lifelong learning.

“I’m reminded every day how privileged I am to attend USC,” said Chang, who is pursuing a bachelor’s in cognitive science with a minor in cinematic arts. “I plan to work for the benefit of disadvantaged students so that they can expand their opportunities.”

Chang’s passion for helping others is in line with the Martenses’ deeply held belief in paying forward the blessings they feel they’ve received.

“We hope that we’re setting an example that inspires others to give back as well, whether through their time or resources,” Harlan Martens said. With her record of community service and passion for growing her impact in the future, “Miss Chang reflects many of the things we want to accomplish,” he added.

The ultimate goal

Ultimately, the Martenses hope their gift will transform hundreds, even thousands, of lives.

“We see this gift as a way to invest in these students’ hopes and dreams,” Linda Martens said.

The couple said that USC Dornsife’s diversity as a college makes it a natural fit for their vision: They want to enable students in a variety of fields to pursue their studies and innovate without financial burdens. The breadth and depth of USC Dornsife is vast, with more than 30 academic departments and programs across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, and dozens of research centers and institutes.

The Martens Scholars Program will support up to six undergraduates every four years on full tuition, four-year scholarships with additional $5,000 stipends for research, travel and conferences. It will also provide four scholarships offering half the cost of tuition, two partial need-based scholarships earmarked for transfer students, two two-year fellowships for doctoral and graduate students and two senior fellowships for postdoctoral fellows. Among other requirements, recipients will be those who embody what are known as the “five traits of a Trojan”: faithful, scholarly, skillful, courageous and ambitious.

Harlan Martens is retired from Exxon Mobil, where he served as chief attorney of producing operations. Linda Martens is a past president of National Charity League Inc. and former service consultant with the Association of Junior Leagues International. Both are USC Dornsife alumni.