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Oxford College scholarship honors teaching ‘phenom’
John F. Morgan holds a photo of Neil Shaw Penn and poses with Carol Penn

John F. Morgan holds a photo of Neil Shaw Penn and poses with Carol Penn, an Emory alumna and Penn’s widow. Morgan has established the Neil Shaw Penn Scholarship to honor the late history professor and all faculty who put their focus on teaching.

Some professors make a strong impression. Neil Shaw Penn was one of them. For more than 40 years, Penn taught history at Oxford College, earning multiple awards for teaching from students, alumni and other faculty members. Students dedicated the yearbook to him, while his colleagues honored him with the Fleming Award for Excellence in teaching and established the Neil Penn History Award to be given annually to the top history student. In 2005, he was declared an Emory University Distinguished Emeritus Professor.

“He was a phenom,” says John F. Morgan, who graduated from Oxford in 1967 and Goizueta Business School in 1969. “His spirit and energy for history influenced generations of students at Oxford. He taught details and specifics: dates, historical actors, the circumstances in which they lived and the effects of their lives.” Although Penn was kind and beloved, “he was no-nonsense,” Morgan remembers. “You had to knuckle down and work in his class.”

Morgan regards Penn — who was also an Emory alumnus, having earned his PhD in history from the university in 1973 — as emblematic of the type of professor who puts teaching first. “He was invested in teaching and was totally focused on making kids’ lives better.” 

In honor of Penn, who passed away in 2020, Morgan recently established the Neil Shaw Penn Scholarship at Oxford College, which will be awarded annually to an Oxford student with financial need. “It is meant to symbolize and honor all those faculty members who value being in the classroom,” Morgan says. 

If Penn epitomized the value of teaching, Morgan embodies student success. He held positions in banking and public securities investment management at SunTrust and Bank of America and cofounded Invesco Capital Management in 1979. Morgan currently owns timberland management companies. He has served on the boards of Weyerhaeuser and Post Properties and served the Emory University Board of Trustees for 21 years, including four years as chair. 

The decision to fund the scholarship came from a conversation Morgan had with Emory President Gregory L. Fenves. “I asked him what he thought the needs were, and he said scholarships,” Morgan says. “He also mentioned my regard for Oxford College and suggested I direct my gift there, so I chose to honor Dr. Penn.” 

Morgan’s love for Oxford College goes beyond his own experience, which he describes as transformative. He points to Oxford and the surrounding community as an example of diversity and harmony. “People with very different viewpoints learn how to come together and get along. That’s the way people ought to think about and treat each other,” he explains. “Lifelong friendships are cemented there.”

Morgan’s experience as both an alumnus and a longtime board member has also helped him determine which giving opportunity to support. “The prospects and prosperity of a university lies first in the faculty, which draws excellent students — that plus endowments — but faculty comes first. Today, faculty are known for what they publish, and teaching has become less important. Fortunately, teaching is still highly valued at Emory, and the classroom experience is pretty darn high.”

To learn more about Emory’s vision for 2O36, including how to provide direct support to students or honor a member of the faculty who made a difference in your life, click here.

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