The Morehead Scholars Program, for 56 years the most prestigious entity associated with the University, is now the Morehead-Cain Scholars Program – the result of a $100 million gift that will greatly expand what the program can do for UNC’s academic elite.
The gift of the Gordon and Mary Cain Foundation of Texas will enable the Morehead Foundation, which currently awards about 50 scholarships a year, to grow that number and expand summer enrichment programs for the scholars. It is by far the largest gift ever made in support of the University.
The Morehead Foundation – now the Morehead-Cain Foundation – believes the contribution is one of the largest gifts ever to an undergraduate scholarship program.
“One of our long-term strategic goals is to increase the number of Morehead Scholars to at least 2 percent of the undergraduate student body,” said Lucy Hanes Chatham of Elkin, chair of the Morehead Foundation, in a statement. “Currently, that would be about 75 Morehead Scholars per class. The Cain Foundation gift allows us to accelerate that plan and to take a quantum leap forward in our recruitment and support of promising young leaders.”
Like the program’s founder and original benefactor, John Motley Morehead III (class of 1891), Gordon Cain was a chemist. A decorated World War II veteran who died in 2002, Cain went to Houston in 1955 to help organize PetroTex Chemical Co., a joint venture of FMC and Tenneco (now Texas Petrochemicals Corp.), according to a “who’s who” listing on a Web site about the history of Houston that marks “170 Years of Historic Houston.” In 1964, he became a vice president of Conoco in charge of its chemical operations, where he built the business from $25 million in sales to $600 million, the Web site said.
Among other business ventures, he bought Conoco’s chemical business from DuPont and established Vista Chemical. Cain served as a director of Texas Petrochemicals Corp., Atlantic Coast Airlines Inc., Agennix Inc. and Lexicon Inc.
Morehead was involved in the discovery of calcium carbide while a student at UNC, which led to the founding of Union Carbide. He built the building that houses the University’s planetarium and bears his name. It opened in 1949, and the first undergraduate nonathletic merit scholarship program in the U.S. was established two years later. Morehead served as president of the General Alumni Association in 1943; it was his grandfather, John Motley Morehead (class of 1817) who was governor of North Carolina and who in 1843 convened by 31 graduates at Commencement to begin plans for an alumni organization.
Gordon and Mary Cain have no direct connection to the University. They met people close to UNC while spending summers for about 20 years in Linville in the North Carolina mountains, and they also had friends among Morehead alumni in Texas, according to Morehead Executive Director Chuck Lovelace ’77.
“They were more interested in the program and what it’s doing for young leaders,” Lovelace said. “The Cain family came to admire the long-term impact of the Morehead program.” He said the Cains had considered starting a program on the Morehead model at another university but decided instead to endow this one.
Lovelace said that he expected the program would be able to offer about 75 scholarships a year going forward and that it would be able to do more with its summer programs. In addition to all-expense-paid undergraduate study, the scholars prepare for their freshman years in an outdoor leadership experience, such as Outward Bound, then in subsequent summers work in public service projects, design their own travel-study experiences and get entry-level-equivalent jobs in businesses or nonprofit organizations.
The program will look at other expansions, such as breaks during the academic career to pursue research, and strengthening ties between the scholars and alumni of the program, Lovelace said.
“The Cains expect us to extend the reach of the program nationally and make sure the Morehead experience remains the premier undergraduate experience,” he said. “Clearly it is a transformational gift – we have challenged our students, and we are now challenged in the same way.”
More than 2,600 students have gone through the Morehead program. Chatham, whose father was chair of the foundation in the early 1970s when it first grappled with the question of whether to accept women – which it first did in 1974 – drew a comparison between Cain and Morehead.
“The similarities in the lives of John Motley Morehead and Gordon Cain are truly remarkable,” she said. “Both were hard-working men of integrity who found success in the chemical industry, and both recognized the importance of investing in the education of young adults with the talent, commitment and character to make a difference in the world. This gift offers us a tremendous opportunity to advance the legacies of both men.”
Asked how it felt to be adding to the Morehead nameplate, Lovelace said: “Obviously, we all have nostalgic twinges, but there’s no one I’ve met who wants to deny a student the same experience they had as a Morehead Scholar. It perpetuates our legacy rather than detract from it.”