Alumnus donates $1 million for scholarships

Southern Illinois University



March 11, 2016



Terry Asher remembers what it was like trying to afford a college education in the 1970s.

“It was hard to afford college in the 1970s and it's much worse now,” said the SIU engineering alumnus, who still treasures his time on the Carbondale campus. “I am the first and only one in my family to get a degree. My decision to attend SIU was a major fork in the road for me. My life would have been much different without the education I received at SIU. “

And what it a life it turned out to be. His career as an engineering student led to a long career in the United States Air Force, during which he worked on and led projects in space control systems and intelligence.

But for all the time he spent with his head figuratively in the stars, Asher always kept his feet on the ground. After retiring, he didn’t’ forget the university that welcomed him as a first-generation Saluki, nor the fact that there are many students today who face the same financial challenges that he did in the 70s.

That’s a major reason why Asher is donating $1 million to the College of Engineering’s general scholarship fund, where it will help bright, hard-working students become the engineers of tomorrow.

“This gift is truly transformational for our college in general and for untold future generations of students in particular who might otherwise not be able to afford attending SIU,” said John Warwick, dean of the College of Engineering.

For Asher, a native of rural Adams County who earned his Bachelor of Science degree in engineering, with a concentration in electrical engineering, in 1979, going to college opened a door that would send him on a fascinating journey.

“I discovered the Air Force through a friend who was stationed at the SIU Air Force ROTC detachment, still located just north of Woody Hall,” Asher said.

His first assignment was as a technical intelligence analyst, assessing foreign space ground control systems at what is now called the National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.  He soon found SIU had aptly prepared him for the many and diverse challenges in his new job.

“The engineering education I received at SIU was ideal because it was a more general approach that helped me to understand an entire system instead of only a small part of it,” Asher said.

From there, his career took off, leading to unexpected opportunities in other military intelligence and space operations assignments. He represented the Air Force on two national committees while stationed at the Pentagon and he served as a mission planner for new military space systems. He also met his wife, Susan, during one of these assignments.

“In my final assignment I lead a division of 80 military and civilians located in five branch offices,” he said. He retired from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel in 2002.

Asher said he remembers fondly the two years he spent at Bailey Hall on the SIU campus, as well as going to football or basketball games and riding his bike around Campus Lake.

“I remember going to ‘the Strip’ on Saturday night or getting a Quatro’s pizza on Sunday night,” he said. “I remember the late nights studying in my first two years and the study groups we formed during my last years at the Student Center.  I still have some lifelong friends from the ROTC detachment and from the church I attended.  I also remember how SIU was always welcoming to all and outreaching especially to the people with disabilities.”

A lineup of favorite educators included professors Feiste, Dodd and Jefferson from the engineering department.  

“I learned a lot from them and they were very approachable – some college professors can be intimidating,” Asher said. “

ROTC, where he received his U.S. Air Force officer’s commission, taught him how to lead people, and he got the most out of engineering class projects where students were encouraged to apply what they had learned to solve a problem, he said.

“One of my most memorable professors was ‘Weird Harold’ Grosowsky from the design department who taught me how to brainstorm,” Asher said. “Engineering is as much about training your mind to think like an engineer, about visualizing a problem and how to go about solving it as it is doing the math.” 

In the end, engineering is about people, Asher said. And that’s why he wanted to help students who, like himself, are dedicated to their craft and improving their lives, as well.

“Supporting a new building or equipment is fine but it helps no one if a student can't afford to attend,” Asher said.  “I want others in similar positions to have an opportunity to change their lives.”