Ray Johnson ‘74 has a passion for traveling and philanthropy. He combined and honored his passions by making a gift of $25,000 as part of Redbirds Rising: The Campaign for Illinois State to create the Ray Johnson and Jeanne Muzzillo Study Abroad Endowed Scholarship.

The Ray Johnson and Jeanne Muzzillo Study Abroad Endowed Scholarship supports International Studies and programs for study abroad student travel.

“I wasn’t sure what would come from my philanthropy,” said Johnson, “But it has been a great experience meeting students and helping them expand their horizons. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Johnson’s gift encourages students to pursue their passions and discover the ever-changing world. This is the second scholarship Johnson has established at Illinois State University, the first being The Ray Johnson Endowed Scholarship for students in the College of Fine Arts.

From small town to international travel

Growing up on a farm in rural Illinois, Johnson remembers coming to Illinois State and thinking that Bloomington-Normal was a big city. He would soon realize just how big the world was after completing his time at Illinois State and traveling the world. Johnson graduated in 1974 with a Bachelor of Science in mathematics. He then went on to work for State Farm Insurance for 34 years. When his vacation time increased to three weeks per year, he began traveling abroad to places he had only seen in movies such as Australia, Sweden, New Zealand, South America, and Thailand, just to name a few. Johnson was so affected by this time in new cultures that he made it his mission to travel as far and as often as he could.

In 2013, Johnson met Jeanne Muzzillo, an English education professor at Bradley University, and they soon embraced a mutual love of international travel. Jeanne has taught abroad in London, England and Rome, Italy and was eager to see more of the world. They share a passion for long-distance hiking and have trekked over 2,000 miles of trails over the years together in some of the most beautiful places in the world including Spain, Portugal, France, and Italy. This year, they will hike through England and Scotland, as well as taking time to visit Ireland. Experiencing cultures outside the United States has given them a new perspective on life and the benefits of meeting people from other parts of the world.

Giving the gift of perspective

Johnson was not able to study abroad during his time at Illinois State and wishes that he could have done so earlier in his life. The Ray Johnson and Jeanne Muzzillo Study Abroad Endowed Scholarship was created so more students can have the opportunity that he did not. “I want to give a student like I once was the chance to go somewhere that they might not even know exists. It is becoming an increasingly interconnected world. The more exposure we can give people the better,” said Johnson.

The Study Abroad program at Illinois State is sending over 650 students abroad this year, which is the most in Illinois State University history. With more than 90 programs in over 45 different countries, students have endless options when it comes to discovering the world. Johnson’s scholarship celebrates the University’s core values of diversity and inclusion—students who study abroad will be able to experience their new peers’ home countries firsthand, giving them greater understanding.

Encouraging future contributors

Alumni like Ray Johnson know the importance of giving back to the University that gave them so much. Johnson says to future and potential donors, “If you have the assets to do it and you have a passion for something, donate to it now. You will feel so fulfilled knowing that you are helping students through your gift.”

Redbirds Rising: The Campaign for Illinois State is the most ambitious campaign in the history of the University with a goal of $150 million. It will enhance the opportunities and experiences available to students who belong to our cutting-edge institution. Together we can help Illinois State University rise to new heights.

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