First-Generation Allegheny Graduate Encourages Others To Give Back Through Philanthropy

Ryan Cole
Ryan Cole

The experience that first-generation student Ryan Cole ’10 had at Allegheny College sparked his journey toward a career that has incorporated higher education, public health, and community service.

As director of student philanthropy at Valparaiso University, he helps students think about what it means to be philanthropic — a lesson that Cole himself learned at Allegheny. 

Cole, who majored in biology and minored in psychology, participated in the College’s Davies Service Leaders Program (now known as the Davies and Fahrner Civic Impact Scholars Program). Through the program, Cole completed project-based internships with the Meadville community. 

“One of the things I appreciated about my time at Allegheny was getting outside of the campus bubble and being able to go downtown through the Davies Service Leader Program,” Cole says. “Allegheny taught me that we all have unique interests and identities. We don’t have to be defined by one interest.” 

After graduation, Cole worked as the Davies Service Leader program coordinator and later with the Meadville Redevelopment Authority. In 2011, he joined the AmeriCorps VISTA program at Gannon University to develop a geographic information system infrastructure, aid service learning, and support sustainability on campus.

Cole went on to pursue a master’s degree in public health at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), focusing on occupational safety. Afterward, he remained at UIC as the coordinator of the university’s National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health Education and Research Center, a traineeship program that supported him as a student. 

In his current role at Valparaiso, Cole encourages students to see themselves as philanthropists to break down the idea that philanthropy is only for the wealthy. He aims to raise awareness of giving beyond monetary donations, such as using one’s skills as a volunteer, inspiring others through personal testimony, and sharing connections. 

“The hope is by graduation the students are able to envision a personal form of philanthropy that relates to their passion and the changes they want to see in the world,” says Cole. “The most rewarding part of my career is working with the students and helping them grow into their unique identities.”

Throughout his career, Cole has found that his Allegheny biology major and psychology minor combination has allowed him to conduct meaningful research, understand people more holistically, and think through solutions differently.

Cole advises Allegheny students to explore philanthropy by connecting with the Civic Engagement Office, getting to know the local community, and engaging with the College’s Office of Institutional Advancement to challenge their perspectives. 

“Take the opportunity in school to get to know the people around you who have different interests and are from different areas,” he says. “You can learn so much just from the people around us, and it’s not often we have opportunities like we do at a college campus.”