Wife's trials and successes inspire E.E. Carter Foundation scholarships for women engineers

Spring 2019

Previous Story Next Story
E. Eugene Carter meets students who are earning an OU degree in engineering with his support. The loan repayment fund Carter established serves as a tribute to his wife, who emigrated to the United States from Cuba as a teenager.

E. Eugene Carter meets students who are earning an OU degree in engineering with his support. The loan repayment fund Carter established serves as a tribute to his wife, who emigrated to the United States from Cuba as a teenager.

E. Eugene Carter has known and respected many people throughout his life, yet the former Harvard Business School professor and investor takes his greatest inspiration from the opportunity to learn – and that means learning something from everyone you meet.

Learning from others is the foundation of Carter’s life, starting with his mother, a librarian, and his father, a World War I veteran and self-taught engineer from Kansas. Years later, he also learned from his father-in-law, a gritty refugee from Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

But the one person Carter may admire most, and who has taught him the most, is his wife, Rita, who came to the United States as a 15-year-old who could not speak English. She learned the language, graduated from high school early, helped provide for her family, worked her way through college and, eventually, rose to join the teaching faculty at Harvard University before serving 17 years as director of the U.S. Export-Import Bank. For 20 years, she also was director of four New York Stock Exchange firms.

He says Rita is why he established an educational awards program more than a decade ago to help Hispanic women earn engineering degrees at public universities across the country.

“To me, it seemed like a worthwhile objective to honor my dad. I honored my wife by focusing on women and later, on Hispanic women, in the field of engineering,” Carter said. “I also felt that more women in engineering is a distinct benefit to the field.”

Since 2013, the E.E. Carter Foundation has given $390,000 to the University of Oklahoma Foundation for the E.E. Carter Foundation Opportunity Fund, including a recent gift of $70,000. The opportunity scholarship is unique in that it is a federal student-loan repayment program and used as an incentive toward graduation.

Award recipients pay for their college expenses up front through student loans. After graduating with an engineering degree, they can receive up to $20,000 in Opportunity Award money to help pay off their loans. Students are selected for the award program in their sophomore year.

More than 100 women from 18 universities have graduated with engineering degrees through the award program since its 2007 establishment. Universities are selected based on their strong engineering programs. OU’s Gallogly College of Engineering had an additional edge in the selection process, as Carter has family connections to Oklahoma and his uncle, William Carter, was an OU graduate.

Lisa Morales, executive director of Gallogly College’s Diversity and Inclusion Program, said there were 11 Opportunity Award Scholars at OU in the 2018-19 school year, with five graduating in May.

Paulina Del Rio was among those graduates. Born in Mexico City and raised in the Houston area, she finished her OU chemical engineering degree in May and has taken a job with Texas Instruments in Dallas.

“I was extremely excited to get the Opportunity Award because it took an enormous load off me and my parents. It was a huge blessing,” she said. “The degree was difficult and challenging. Because of the award, I didn’t have to take a job and could focus on my studies.”

Carter said his wife has always encouraged her students to ask for help because there’s a good chance people are just waiting to lend a hand.

“She also tells them to work hard and to realize that there is nowhere else in the world where they can enjoy the same opportunities. She is extraordinarily grateful to the United States, realizing that with or without Castro, her life in Cuba would have been much different,” Carter said.