Bill Ross surprised his wife, Susan Gravely, with a donation to Carolina study abroad scholarships.
Susan Gravely ’73, ’79 (M.S.R.A.), a UNC-Chapel Hill alumna with a master’s degree in education, grew up in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, where her father, LL Gravely, served as president of China American Tobacco Company. He had business partnerships all across the world, which meant international guests frequently visited the Gravely’s Rocky Mount home and were always welcome to join their family dinners. Before these visits, Gravely’s father would pull out a globe and show his children the countries from where the guests had come. As he pointed to each country, he said, “The world really is small. We’re only a plane ride or phone call away from anywhere else in the world.”
These experiences gave Gravely an interest in travel and global study, as well as a sense of international business, at an early age. Then in 1983, after a trip to Italy with her mother and sister, Lee and Frances, the three women partnered to create VIETRI, a wholesale and retail company that sells Italian-made and Italian-inspired dinnerware, gifts, and home and garden accessories. Gravely’s husband, Bill Ross, had his own global interest inspired by a high school German teacher. He then experienced the value of global education during a year-long study abroad program in Germany, while he was an undergraduate student at Davidson College.
Gravely and Ross believe that global experiences have the power to broaden a student’s world and thinking, in the same way that their own lives and thinking have been enriched through global travel, study and relationships. So, on Christmas morning 2020, Ross surprised Gravely with a $530,000 donation in her name to the Office of Study Abroad in the College of Arts & Sciences. The gift, called the Susan Gravely Study Abroad Scholarship, will fund scholarships to undergraduate students participating in College-approved summer, semester or year-long study abroad programs.
“It seemed like just the right year and just the right moment to celebrate Susan, her story and her dedication to the value and wonders of global learning and global opportunities,” said Ross. “Susan has set a wonderful example of how to be a global leader. She’s built a successful international company that does business ethically, effectively and creatively and, in doing that, she’s brought joy to and enhanced the lives and work of people around the globe. My hope is that this gift will open the door for many Carolina students to experience the benefits and inspiration that have come to us from global education.”
Carolina’s Global Guarantee was an important part of the inspiration for this gift. The Global Guarantee is the University’s commitment that a transformative global education is available to every undergraduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill. Carolina is doing this by offering the best menu of global opportunities possible, ranging from world language course offerings to study abroad to global programming and cultural exchange on campus. Students from all disciplines and career paths benefit from firsthand global opportunities.
“I hope that many Carolina students will have their lives enriched by this gift,” said Susan Gravely. “Then, I hope they will take the things that they learn through global experiences and focus on creating solutions to the problems facing our world.”
With business now conducted globally on every level, Gravely believes that developing a global mindset is essential for Carolina students’ future career success. A global education is necessary for students to develop an awareness and understanding of the world. It also helps prepare students to work thoughtfully with people across cultures.
“My mother would always say, ‘You can’t take your money to the grave’,” said Gravely. “Bill and I really believe that. For us, this gift is an investment in the lives of young people. We want as many people as possible to have life-changing global experiences that can help them grow into the kind, thoughtful people the world needs.”
Both Gravely and Ross are engaged members of the Carolina community who support a wide range of initiatives. Both are members of the Chancellor’s Global Leadership Council and Gravely is an annual supporter of the Gravely Family Study Abroad Scholarship, which was created by her mother in 2006. She is also on the Carolina Performing Arts board, the NC Beta board, and is involved with Habitat for Humanity, Compass Center and other women’s leadership programs. Ross, an environmental and natural resources lawyer at Brooks Pierce and former secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (from 2001-2009), has served on the board of the N.C. Botanical Garden and is currently on the Advisory Council for the Gillings School of Global Public Health.
The gift counts toward the Campaign for Carolina, the University’s most ambitious fundraising campaign in history, launched in October 2017 with a goal to raise $4.25 billion by December 2022.