COLLEGE PARK, MD (August, 2017) – Jack and Doris Simich, who met while earning their undergraduate degrees in teaching at Northern Illinois University, value education and recognize the pivotal role scholarships play in helping students meet their academic goals. Motivated by their family backgrounds, the couple, who now reside in Pittsburgh, have established four scholarships at various institutions, including at the University of Maryland College of Education. In 2013, they created a UMD College of Education scholarship in the name of Jack Simich (Ph.D. ’66) and his son, Stephen (B.S. ’83), as both earned degrees in industrial education from the College.
Jack grew up in DeKalb, Illinois, where NIU is located, which proved to be a stroke of luck for his educational journey, as living at home during college enabled him to afford attending university. His father had died when he was very young and he was raised by his mother, with his uncle serving as a guardian.
“My folks came [to the U.S.] from Yugoslavia and my mother never had a day of formal schooling in her life,” Jack explained. “My oldest sister had an opportunity to go to NIU with a scholarship, and, in those days, most women didn’t go to work, but got married,” and focused on raising a family, Jack said.
Yet, a local Yugoslavian woman who attended NIU met with his mother and uncle to encourage them to allow his sister to attend the university, letting them know that she could live at home while earning her degree. This led his sister, and later Jack himself, on the path to higher education.
Doris Simich, for her part, chose to attend NIU to earn her teaching degree. She initially thought she wanted to specialize in physical education, but ended up earning her degree in elementary education. After their time at NIU, Doris Simich taught at the Marine Corps base on Camp Pendleton, California, where Jack was stationed.
“It was a thrill to see these little kids change and develop reading skills. It was just a real pleasure to be part of their educational opportunity,” Doris said.
After completing his master’s degree at NIU, Jack decided he wanted to pursue his doctorate. He applied to several universities, but chose to attend UMD, unknowingly subjecting himself to additional statistics courses. One of the faculty members he knew well at NIU had a son who was a professor at UMD, which was influential in his decision, and he was also swayed by a personal phone call he received from a COE department head who introduced himself by his first name. Finally, he loved the local area from his time at the Marine Corps base located in Quantico, Virginia.
While Jack attended UMD, the Simich family, which by now included a daughter Desa and son Stephen, supported themselves through a variety of means. In addition to his G.I. Bill stipend, Jack had a teaching assistantship at COE and then a part-time position at the National Education Association, where he helped develop a teacher institute that was especially popular with science teachers. During that time, Doris also served as a substitute teacher at local schools.
After completing his doctorate, Jack’s career path led him to Pittsburgh, as he received a position as Education Director at the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation. There, drawing from his NEA experience, he started teacher institute programs that were industry-supported. Reflecting Jack’s commitment to teaching and developing others’ career skills, his department also created a student internship program, which placed students as technical writers or designers at the Foundation for a semester-long experience that built their professional portfolio.
Both families’ backgrounds motivated the couple to start scholarship programs, the first of which was developed at the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation.
“We attribute [our motivation to develop scholarships] to Doris’ dad,” Jack said. “Her dad was a big proponent of going to school, and when he owned several businesses, he would support his employees so that they could go to school.”
When her father died, he left each of his five children funds, which they used to establish a permanent scholarship in his honor at the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation.
“Then, when my mother passed away—here was a person who encouraged education, but was never in a classroom herself—we started a scholarship at NIU in her honor,” Jack said. A second scholarship was started at NIU a few years later.
And then, their most recent scholarship was developed to support undergraduate students at the UMD College of Education. The children developed a love of the University of Maryland—and the Dairy—when his father attended the university, and Stephen ultimately decided to earn his bachelor’s degree at the College of Education as well.
“I was very, very fortunate to have a school [NIU] in my backyard. Many people don’t have that,” Jack said. “We have always tried to help people,” he added, which has led to Jack and Doris Simich’s longstanding support of scholarships.