Longtime Supporters Champion Learning and Leadership

Rogue Valley philanthropists Debra Lee and Peter Sage are committed supporters of SOU and the Southern Oregon community.

Debra is a civil rights attorney with a long history of advocating for the poor and disenfranchised. As executive director of the Center for Nonprofit Legal Services in Medford, Debra often helps people who are at their most vulnerable. Among her clients at the present time are residents of Phoenix and Talent who have been displaced by the Almeda wildfire. She and her team are helping to coordinate FEMA resources for those in need.

Peter believes that SOU played a transformative role in his parents’ lives. “Dad was a farm boy from Table Rock, but SOU was close by and inexpensive enough that he could work his way through and become a teacher and then principal, a career he loved.” After a successful career as a financial advisor, Peter is involved as an Honors College mentor and proudly grows “really great melons” on that family farm.

For both Debra and Peter, SOU’s Honors College is close to their hearts, which they have helped nurture since its beginning in 2014.

“I was a member of the SOU Foundation when the previous president was at SOU and the big idea of the Honors College was proposed,” said Debra. “I shared my excitement with Peter and we agreed to be supporters of this venture. We have committed to the program for the long term.”

SOU’s Honors College functions as its own academic entity, with students participating in challenging courses, experiential learning opportunities, and service projects in a close-knit environment tailored to their individual interests. Peter says he and Debra were drawn to the idea of a small cohort of motivated students working together in an academically rigorous environment.

“I loved college, and a huge part of that was talking with and sharing ideas with other students, teachers, and mentors,” said Peter.

“SOU’s Honors College offers motivated students a community as part of a strong liberal arts education.”

The Honors College started as a means of attracting and retaining top-notch students. Over the years, it has also helped shine a light on SOU’s strong academic programs. Peter has served as a mentor to several students, meeting them on campus and offering academic and career guidance. “I get to have great conversations with young people, and they get my perspective as an old guy,” he said.

Debra has guided Honors College students through internships at her nonprofit. Currently, she has two Honors College interns volunteering with the organization’s Immigration Law Program to assist lawful permanent residents seeking to be naturalized. “I’ve heard about the transformative nature of the Honors College from students and foundation trustees,” she said. “SOU is a great resource in our small community.”

The couple remain as excited about the Honors College today as they were when it first began. “It creates an environment in which academic achievement is normative, rather than unusual,” said Peter. “We’re proud to be a part of it.”