A $1 million gift to UCLA from alumna Kellie Newcomb Hepper and her husband, Jeffrey Hepper, will help bolster campus support for students who are struggling economically.

The donation establishes the Kellie Newcomb Hepper and Jeffrey Hepper Centennial Scholarship, which aims to ensure that current and incoming undergraduates with a demonstrated financial need have access to a UCLA education. Believing that education is the key to future opportunities — and that students in any major can suffer financial hardship — the donors have made the scholarship available to students in all schools and academic focus areas.

“Whether arts or engineering students, everybody has needs, but we realized that the opportunity to get a college degree really opens up a lot more doors,” said Kellie Hepper, who earned her bachelor’s degree in art history at UCLA in 1979, while Jeffrey Hepper earned his in chemical engineering at UC Davis the same year. “I was fortunate to get a great education at UCLA, and I’m happy to be able to pass that experience on to others who might not be able to afford it.”

Student support continues to be a universitywide priority following the conclusion of the recent Centennial Campaign, and it has grown even more essential as students confront the COVID-19 pandemic and adapt to remote learning. Although the new scholarship is not specific to the crisis, it provides welcome support at a time when many students and their families face difficult decisions about education while struggling with employment, housing and other basic needs.

“UCLA has always been committed to providing opportunities for the highest-achieving and most passionate students to grow into our world’s future leaders, and we continue to advance that mission in the midst of challenging times,” said Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, vice provost for enrollment management. “Philanthropy is an important partner in this endeavor, and we are immensely grateful to the Heppers for their generous gift.”

The Heppers are collectors of contemporary art, and Kellie Hepper serves on the board of the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at UC Davis and is a member of the modern and contemporary art subcommittee at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. She designed and built the couple’s homes in Houston and Manhattan Beach. Jeffrey Hepper is retired from a 30-year career in the oil business, which included 24 years at Vitol, a large international oil-trading company based in Geneva.

Committed to supporting students who desire a higher education to better themselves, the couple also has established endowed scholarships at the University of Southern California and Pennsylvania State University, the institutions their children attended. They also support YES Prep, a Houston-based charter school that serves more than 13,000 students from low-income communities.

“We have really been moved by students’ stories,” Kellie Hepper said. “Every term, we hear from recipients who would have had to drop out or quit extracurricular activities to get jobs if they hadn’t gotten a scholarship. We’ve been lucky enough to be able to give, and we know it’s so appreciated, and that’s why we’ve continued to set up scholarships.”