Giving Stories - Stephens

Together, We Lead

Champaign-based philanthropists Jeanene and Rick Stephens challenged their community to propel Carle Illinois College of Medicine to the next stage of growth and development.

“These will be the physician scientists that will help improve health across the world.”

Rick Stephens

Rick and Jeanene Stephens believe in the power of people working together for the greater good. “Things get done by groups of people in community with one another, not by individuals,” said Rick. The Stephens have witnessed the benefits of strong collaborations: in building a successful hobby business, in growing a thriving family, and in strengthening the Champaign-Urbana community.

Early in 2021, the couple established the Rick and Jeanene Stephens Family Challenge, a $1.5 million donation to the Phyllis M. Wise Center for Student Excellence Fund, that challenges others to help reach an ambitious goal of $5 million. The endowment will support a wide range of crucial student-centered programs, including wellness programs, service-learning programs, financial aid counseling, and the cost of maintaining a new center designed specifically for students. “I believe this fund will bring peers together in a very comfortable and safe place so they can interact and learn from each other and become stronger individuals. The fund will support them emotionally and socially,” Rick explained.

The Stephens are among Carle Illinois’ earliest supporters, inspired by the passion and vision of their neighbor, former Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise, who championed the creation of Carle Illinois as a collaboration between the University of Illinois, the Champaign-Urbana community, and Carle Health. Fresh off Rick’s personal experience as a patient receiving cutting-edge healthcare at the Mayo Clinic, the couple connected with Wise’s concept of empowering physician scientists with the engineering skills to develop new healthcare solutions. “There are a lot of cutting-edge possibilities out there and it made sense to look at it from an engineering standpoint,” said Jeanene.

Through their support of Carle Illinois, Rick and Jeanene have developed relationships with some of the students in the college’s inaugural class. They are impressed with the students’ potential for good. “These will be the physician scientists that will help improve health across the world,” Rick said. While Carle Illinois’ academic rigor and innovative curriculum are distinctive, the couple is equally impressed with the people-centered approach of the college’s students. “These students are not only extremely bright but they’re so compassionate and understanding of what makes us human beings. Their passions go beyond their own interests,” added

Rick and Jeanene Stephens (left and right) with Christina Moawad (center), Carle Illinois Class of 2022.
Rick and Jeanene Stephens (left and right) with Christina Moawad (center), Carle Illinois Class of 2022.

From early on, Wise foresaw that brilliant, high-performing students would require a new level of support to deal with the pressures of a demanding curriculum, the stresses of clinical training, and the emphasis on innovation to change the face of medicine across the globe. Rick and Jeanene saw an opportunity to help and to enlist the support of the community. The pair hope that others will take up the challenge. “We felt like we really needed to help other people in the community to understand this very unique college of medicine and the value of providing this wholistic support for students so that they not only will be brilliant, but they’ll be able to translate that brilliance into serving other people in an effective way,” said Rick.