Donor to help international students feel at home at KSU

KENNESAW, Ga. | Jan 5, 2021

Harry Vardis knows firsthand the value of receiving a college scholarship as an international student, so he is providing that same opportunity to students at Kennesaw State University.

Harry and Athena Vardis
Harry and Athena Vardis

Vardis, 79, has committed a seven-figure donation to establish a legacy scholarship fund – the Harry and Athena Vardis Scholarships – which will be given to deserving KSU students, with a focus on students from foreign countries.

“I believe that education is the No. 1 component of a good society, and I want to contribute something that’s ongoing for many people,” Vardis said. “If a hundred or two hundred students benefit from this scholarship over the years, my soul will be happy.”

As a child living in Greece during World War II, Vardis dreamed of attending college in America. He chose the University of North Dakota because the father of one of his high school classmates was a professor there. Vardis received a scholarship after his freshman year and earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics/statistics from UND, which he followed with a master’s degree in industrial psychology from the University of Tennessee.

Following a successful career as an advertising executive in New York and Atlanta, he founded the Creative Focus Institute, dedicated to advancing innovative thinking in business and education. He also wrote two books on innovation in marketing.

In 2001, Vardis became an adjunct professor in KSU’s Coles College of Business. Along with the classroom courses he teaches in business and marketing, Vardis frequently conducts seminars for the University’s faculty and staff on leadership, teamwork, creativity and strategic planning.

“Kennesaw State is family to me. They have supported me tremendously over the years, so helping students through this scholarship is like supporting my family,” Vardis said.

Vardis's contribution will enhance an already diverse student body at Kennesaw State. Approximately 765 international students representing 126 countries currently are enrolled at KSU, according to Sheb True, interim associate vice provost for the Division of Global Affairs.

“Harry Vardis has been a valued member of the KSU community, sharing his expertise with our students in the classroom and with University leaders as a strategic advisor,” True said. “This financial gift will help support the continued growth of KSU as an institution of academic excellence by attracting the best of the best from around the world.”

A major gift for scholarships like the one from Vardis serves to provide critical financial assistance to prospective students who have made Kennesaw State their top choice.

“Harry Vardis's commitment to higher education and to Kennesaw State University will make a long-lasting, meaningful impact on students for years to come,” said Ward Sullivan, KSU’s newly named director of planned giving. “His contribution shows how important planned gifts are to the University’s mission of providing opportunities for our students.”

– Paul Floeckher

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit