Karen Pompanella ’88 believes in paying it forward.

As a high school graduate in the mid-1980s, the Johnstown, Pa., native had her heart set on Lafayette College from the moment she drove up College Hill. But as the daughter of a high school teacher who was the sole breadwinner for her large family, she knew her dream would not come true without significant assistance, which she received thanks to the support of those who came before her.

That’s why she has pledged to give $10,000 a year for five years to support financial aid, she says proudly. “Financial aid was the way I got there. I worked in the library, I took a heavy course load, and I graduated in 3 ½ years,” says Pompanella. “Someone put me through. I want to help someone else – some kid who can dream it but there is no way it is coming from the family checkbook.”

Karen Pompanella '88 in a mail room at the U.S. Postal Service

Karen Pompanella ’88

One of the key components of the “Live Connected, Lead Change” campaign is raising $60 million to provide need-based and merit-based financial aid, and more than 70 named scholarships have been added to the college’s permanent endowment or established through restricted annual gifts. During the 2014-15 academic year more than half of Lafayette’s students are receiving assistance through the College’s financial-aid program.

College-funded scholarships, grants, work opportunities, and loans total more than $41 million. This includes approximately $7 million generated by more than 550 named scholarships that are part of Lafayette’s permanent endowment or are funded through restricted annual gifts. Named scholarships reflect the concern and the generosity of the many alumni and friends who are committed to keeping a Lafayette education within the reach of the most deserving students, regardless of their personal financial circumstances.

“We must invest in our students. Nothing is more critical to Lafayette’s future than ensuring that the College can attract and retain a competitive student body. If Lafayette wants to be regarded as among the very best colleges in America, we have to have the very best students, those at or near the top of their class,” Campaign Chair Steve Pryor ’71 said earlier this year. “Engaged, motivated, and ambitious, they want to do something special with their lives, even though they don’t know yet what that might be. But some of the very best students can’t afford a Lafayette education.”

Pompanella earned a bachelor of arts in engineering – Lafayette was the only college in the country to offer such a major – and it propelled her to a successful career with the U.S. Postal Service, where she is national director of transportation technology. “I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to major in business or engineering and Lafayette was the only school that offered the opportunity to do both,” she said. “I didn’t want to be a traditional engineer, but I wanted to have the tech background so I could talk to the engineers in their language.”

She has since earned her MBA from the University of Maryland and serves as Lafayette’s admissions representative for southern Maryland. Her enthusiasm has remained unabated since the first day she visited her alma mater.

“I remember coming up the (College) hill for the first time,” she said. “I thought it was the most gorgeous place I had ever seen.”