Torchlight | Spring 2014

Orr gift gives business students a boost

 Geoffrey Wilson (left) and Dane Willis are both recipients of the Robert Orr Scholarship,
which supports students studying entrepreneurship.

Scholarships weren’t much of a consideration for Dane Willis when he embarked on his college career. He excelled academically, but his parents gave him plenty of financial support, until tragedy struck.

Willis’ father suffered a fatal stroke last year and Willis suddenly found himself struggling to afford school as he entered Sac State’s Business Honors program last fall. He was grateful to discover he had been awarded the Robert J. Orr Scholarship.

“Before my dad passed away I had never even applied for scholarships because I didn’t feel like I needed to,” Willis says. “It’s been huge for me to step out and ask for help. To receive it, it’s really changed everything.”

The generous gift from Orr, a Renaissance Society member and a retired operations manager for the California Employment Development Department, is also inspiring Geoffrey Wilson to achieve his goals.

Wilson tried college when he was younger, but distractions kept him from progressing. Now at age 45, with two toddlers at home, he is graduating and eager for the career that lies ahead.

Armed with more than two decades of experience in managing restaurants and a business that specialized in window coverings and screen doors, Sac State’s Business Honors courses opened up new horizons for Wilson.

“I’ve always wanted to get my hands dirty, but I’ve also seen opportunities within the businesses I worked in, to improve processes and the bottom line,” Wilson says. “The Honors Program takes a lot of time, but it makes a big difference. I like to learn and I’m getting a wide variety of classes and influences.”

Orr established the scholarship endowment for students studying entrepreneurship, hoping to inspire the next generation of business innovators.

The college also incubates future leaders in the Center for Entrepreneurship and the Center for Small Business.

“We are so thankful to donors like Mr. Robert Orr for supporting our students,” says Sanjay Varshney, dean of the College of Business Administration and vice president for economic and regional partnerships. “Mr. Orr is a successful entrepreneur himself. His support gives our students the chance to pursue quality educational opportunities and helps our graduates fuel the economic engine in the region.”

That inspiration gives students a springboard for their own endeavors. Willis’ father owned his own business, and while Dane Willis has his eyes on law school after he graduates, he’s doing so with an entrepreneurial bent.

“I would like to eventually open my own law firm,” he says.

Wilson wants to make an impact by landing a position in the health and wellness field.

“I was a manager at a restaurant and when things would get busy I’d tell my employees, ‘We’re not saving the world, we’re just feeding people,’” Wilson says. “I’ve thought about that and realized I haven’t been saving the world for the last 25 years of my life, so I want to contribute something more. I think by going into healthcare I can add to humanity as a whole.”

For more information on giving opportunities in the College of Business Administration, contact John Power at (916) 278-2452 or