Illinois State University’s 2018 Founders Day celebration kicked off with an announcement from President Larry Dietz: Longtime faculty members Carson and Iris Varner are donating $1 million to the College of Business International Business Institute. In recognition of their gift, the largest faculty cash gift in Illinois State’s history, the institute will be named the Carson and Iris Varner International Business Institute.

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The Varners founded Illinois State’s international business program, which was and remains the only international business program at a public university in Illinois. The first international business graduate completed a contract major in 1981 and the international business major was formalized in 1984. In 2008, Iris Varner formed the International Business Institute to enhance international study opportunities for students and faculty. “You have to be able to relate to where you are by knowing the history, culture, language, and politics. Students have to have a broader understanding of the world,” Iris Varner said.

More than 1,000 students have graduated from the international business program and more than 50 faculty have taken students abroad. “The success of this program, and the International Business Institute, is largely the result of the vision, passion, drive, and commitment of longtime College of Business professors and former director of the Institute, Dr. Carson and Dr. Iris Varner,” said President Dietz.

The gift supports enhancing students’ leadership skills, one of the primary areas of focus in Illinois State’s comprehensive fundraising campaign, Redbirds Rising: The Campaign for Illinois State. President Dietz noted, “Through our campaign pillar of Leadership Rising, we are preparing tomorrow’s leaders today at Illinois State. The Varners’ generous gift will encourage students to immerse themselves in international initiatives which will, in turn, help to prepare them to work in a global economy and live in a global society.”

Ajay Samant, dean of the College of Business, called the Varners’ gift transformational, noting it will enhance student global learning experiences through study abroad, in addition to facilitating the acquisition of global expertise by faculty. He added it will, “elevate the visibility of our international business program from the national to global stage.”

The generous gift will immediately transform the institute, led by Director Barbara Ribbens. Staff will grow to include a graduate assistant and clerical position, and the institute will have its own designated space within the State Farm Hall of Business.

While their latest gift is their largest to Illinois State, it is not their first. Carson and Iris Varner donated the bell used in annual Founders Day ceremonies, funded the addition of a world clock and map in the State Farm Hall of Business, contributed to funds that built the theater on the grounds of Ewing Manor, and established The Carson and Iris Varner International Business Scholarship.

Iris retired from teaching in 2009 and was also the director of the international business program from 2000 to 2010. Carson continues educating students as a full-time professor at Illinois State. “I tell my students in no uncertain terms that as an undergraduate business school, we are second to none,” Carson Varner said. “No one is better than we are.”

The Varners’ gift is part of the University’s $150 million comprehensive campaign, Redbirds Rising: The Campaign for Illinois State. The most ambitious campaign in the University’s 160-year history, Redbirds Rising aims to support scholarship, leadership, and innovation. More than 40,000 donors have already contributed over $113 million in outright gifts and commitments since the beginning of the campaign.

Those interested in supporting the campaign can visit for additional information.