June 24, 2023

By Jeff Murphy
UCM Director of Communications and Media Relations

Contributing to the success of underserved students, Michael S. Harding, a 1973 University of Central Missouri graduate who grew up in St. Louis, has established the Harding Family UCM Advantage Scholars Endowment with a $250,0000 gift to fund a comprehensive college access and completion program for UCM’s incoming freshmen. While plans are being made to publicly honor his generosity this fall, the UCM Advantage Scholars program and the newly named Harding Student Support Services Center are expected to make a positive difference in the lives of future UCM students who will be supported from their first semester through graduation.

“This program is meant to provide personal, professional and academic support for incoming students who do not meet all of the automatic admission criteria, but clearly possess the potential to be successful with the advantage of additional equitable structure and support systems,” said Ken Schueller, senior director of student success at UCM.

Participants in the program will benefit from access to unique opportunities to get involved on campus, assistance with finding on-campus employment, access to a success team who understands individual student needs, targeted academic coursework, tutoring and workshops, mentors and mentoring opportunities, and financial awards.

To make such opportunities possible, Harding worked with the UCM Alumni Foundation to create an endowed fund, which is a permanent fund in which the gift remains intact and invested at all times. Earnings from the endowment provide financial support in perpetuity. Distributions from the donor’s gift and others who may wish to contribute financially to this endowment will cover the UCM Advantage Scholars program expenditures, such as scholarships, student mentor/tutor salaries, professional development, programmatic funds and tangible needs for the Harding Center.

“With the help of resources provided by the Harding family endowment, we are able to offer this program at no additional cost to eligible students,” Schueller said.

A member of the UCM Alumni Foundation Board of Directors, Harding currently resides in Tomball, Texas, and is retired from a successful corporate career. In working with the staff at the UCM Alumni Foundation, he expressed his gratitude for the full cadre of experiences that the university opened up for him while he was pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration from 1969 to 1973.

Harding’s college education paved the way for his selection to a prestigious management trainee program, which ultimately led to a career that spanned more than three decades with Anheuser-Busch Companies. He recently retired as president and chief executive officer of Anheuser-Busch’s packaging group. During his time with the company, Harding provided managerial direction and leadership for the packaging group’s corporate offices in St. Louis, including 400 corporate and salaried employees involved in Operations, Engineering, Research and Development, and Quality Assurance. He also was responsible for management of 14 manufacturing plants and facilities, with approximately 1,900 employees nationwide.

Now serving as a consultant and lecturer, Harding has never lost touch with the importance of higher education, which also took him to institutions such as Pepperdine University, the University of Michigan and the University of North Florida for graduate and postgraduate education. By means of lecturing and supporting his three children through college, Harding witnessed the trend of students beginning their college careers underprepared and as a result discovered a passion for how he, as an alumnus, can make a difference for today’s and tomorrow’s students.

“What makes an academic institution special and renowned is its alumni support, especially those who have achieved a level of prominence in their careers to keep the legacy alive for future generations,” he said. “What more can be asked of an alumnus than to extend a hand up in the form of giving back?”

In appreciation for his investment in students, the UCM Board of Governors in its May 2023 plenary session approved naming the Student Support Services Center in the Elliott Student Union the Harding Center. Schueller said details have not yet been finalized, but plans are being considered to conduct an official naming ceremony during the 2023 Homecoming celebration. Information about that event will be released when available.

“Michael Harding and his family deserve our deepest thanks for their generous support of our most promising students,” said Courtney Goddard, vice president for university advancement and executive director of the UCM Alumni Foundation. “With this gift, the Harding family has chosen to invest in UCM students who are most vulnerable to stopping short of graduating for a variety of reasons, which makes this gift truly unique and an investment in a better future for not only UCM but for all of us.”

UCM’s Harding Student Support Services Center is particularly geared toward students who are the first in their families to pursue a college education, who come from a low-income background or who are challenged by a physical disability. Learn more about how the UCM Advantage Scholars program serves students by visiting UCM’s website.