Spotlight: Falstad estate gift anchors innovative training program

We never know the affect our lives will have on others. Edward and Joyce Falstad tried to make an impact — and to say they made a difference would be an understatement.

When Edward passed away in 2017, he left the bulk of the couple’s estate to the UW–Madison School of Education. Joyce had died in 2015 and they had made their estate decision together.

“We had no idea Mr. Falstad was leaving almost his entire estate to us,” says Betsy Burns, associate vice president and managing director at the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association for the School of Education.

Falstad Scholarship
Edward Falstad received a scholarship for his first semester at UW–Madison in September 1939. He later established a scholarship for students from Ladysmith, Wisconsin, and then made an estate give to the UW–Madison School of Education.

As a lifelong educator — starting first in Phillips, Wisconsin, as a history teacher and ending his career in Ladysmith as the high school principal — Edward was committed to students and learning. He organized fundraising efforts for Ladysmith High School students to earn college scholarships. When he graduated from high school in 1939, the $32.50 scholarship he received paid almost all of his UW–Madison tuition his first semester in the fall of 1939.

Joyce was a kindergarten teacher for 33 years and retired in 1982. They both enjoyed golfing together. After he retired, Edward started a junior golf instruction program, and taught many young students for 20 years.

In addition to the cash value of their estate, Edward and Joyce also left the family home and a tractor to the School of Education.

About one-third of bequests are not known to the organization that receives them. But it was clear from items Edward displayed in his home – including that early tuition bill and a report card — that UW–Madison meant a lot to him. Unfortunately, the Falstads did not share, and it is not known, why they chose to give to the School of Education.

The Falstads made the amazing choice to leave their estate to the School and allow the leaders in charge at the time of the gift to use it with their best discretion to support students.

“It’s really remarkable that they would leave a completely discretionary gift to the School, and trusted we would support students in the best way possible,” says Burns.

Dean Diana Hess and other School leaders chose to use this gift as an anchor, coupled with another donor gift, to support graduate students across the School by establishing the Graduate Training Program (GTP).

The first cohort of GTP PhD and master of fine arts students arrived in 2019. Students applied to the program and departments worked to recruit a diverse cohort. Of those accepted into the program, half are from historically underrepresented groups or international students.

Departments created programs that include formal mentorship in research and teaching, and dedicated time for students to develop and conduct their own research. Students receive full tuition for three to four years under the program.

Lianne Milton, who is pursuing her master of fine arts in photography, says she is honored to be one of the inaugural fellows for the interdisciplinary artist research cohort.

“I chose the Art Department’s master’s program for its diverse faculty and its interdisciplinary focus,” she says. “As a woman of color, I value learning from diverse perspectives to expand my own experiences, connections and awareness. “Without (this support), I would not have been able to attend graduate school at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. This generosity makes a difference.”