March 29, 2021

Gifts totaling $650,000 from two couples with profound personal connections to the SMU Human Rights Program provide crucial resources for the renowned initiative, one of only seven of its kind in the United States. Through hands-on training and research, community internships and life-changing trips, the Program empowers students to become changemakers.

J.D. Dell, managing director and partner at Big Path Capital, a leading investment bank for impact companies and private equity funds, and Ann Marie Dell, who is currently enrolled in an SMU doctorate program, are pleased to announce a $500,000 commitment toward the endowment of the Human Rights Program in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

Ann is in her final semester of coursework for the Doctor of Liberal Studies degree in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development. Her concentration and research focus is in the area of Human Rights and Holocaust Studies under Human Rights Program Director Rick Halperin.

The Dells’ initial $250,000 gift will establish the Ann and J.D. Dell Endowment Fund for Human Rights. The Dells have set aside another $250,000 to be used as a matching gift to encourage other contributions. For every $2 that others donate to the program, the Dells’ endowment fund will match $1.

“My wife, Ann, was, and continues to be, the driving force in our family’s interest in the study of human rights and the important role SMU’s Human Rights program plays in educating and creating young, servant leaders who are willing to take on and solve some of our society’s and the world’s most important and pressing human issues,” Dell said. “Simply put, we believe in the Human Right’s Program’s mantra: ‘There is no such thing as a lesser person,’ and fully support the Program’s teaching, mentorship, travel and enrichment opportunities which advance its mission.”

The SMU Human Rights Program empowers its students to become change-making leaders who understand, promote and defend human rights. The program is one of only seven college and university human rights programs in the U.S., and the only one in the South. From its inception in 2006, the program has grown to well over 200 students, majoring and minoring in human rights.

“We are grateful for the generosity of Ann and J.D. Dell, who are longtime friends and supporters of SMU,” said SMU Vice President for Development and External Affairs Brad Cheves. “We are thrilled at the prospect of attracting more commitments thanks to the Dells’ matching gift offer.”

The Dells were moved, in part, to make their gift after participating in the Program’s annual Holocaust study tour of memorials and Nazi death camps in Poland.

Trey Velvin ’86, ’91, ’17 and Dee Velvin ’87, ’92 were similarly inspired. Trey graduated from SMU’s Master of Liberal Studies program with a focus on Human Rights in 2017, and participated in Human Rights Program learning experiences in Vietnam, Cambodia and the southern U.S.

The Velvins have committed $150,000 toward the endowment. The gift expands their long-standing advocacy for people and communities in need as well as their previous support for SMU Human Rights.

Both the Dells and the Velvins serve on the host committee for the Triumph of the Spirit Award Celebration, which will be held Thursday, November 18 in Dallas. The biennial event recognizes individuals and organizations for outstanding human rights activism and raises funds for the SMU Program. Find registration details and more information here.

Read more about SMU Human Rights.