Almost 50 years ago, Karen and Tom Rutledge were a young married couple, making their way as a family in an off-campus rental. Tom began working as a cable tech, while Karen worked as a waitress.

Some things changed – Tom eventually became the leader of Charter Communications, for one. But so much has not, like the couple’s memories of their lives at the time and their affection for today’s young college students, some with families, who are also starting from scratch.

The couple has supported California students for years with four different scholarships:

  • The Rutledge Institute Scholarships: A highly selective scholarship that provides free tuition, fees and housing for students who are pursuing degrees in early childhood education. Currently, there are 34 Rutledge Scholars enrolled on the California campus. In 2018, the couple established the Karen and Tom Rutledge Institute for Early Childhood Education at California. In collaboration with the Village, a childcare center and preschool in California, Pa., the institute supports an innovative preschool program.
  • The Rutledge Internship Awards: Helps with living expenses for California campus students from southwestern Pennsylvania who take internships more than 150 miles outside the area.
  • The Rutledge Family Scholarships in Economics: For California students pursuing a degree in economics, which Tom Rutledge earned in 1977.
  • The Rutledge Family Scholarships:  For California students who are married or have children.

On April 9, the Rutledges visited PennWest California to meet some of the current scholarship recipients. The students thanked the couple for their support, and the couple delighted in meeting them.

“We come back because this is where we came from,” Tom Rutledge said in his comments to the student recipients at a celebratory luncheon. “It’s a pleasure to give to you, and it’s rewarding to help you create value in your lives.”

Alexis Mercurio, a senior biology major, received the Rutledge Family Scholarship.

“The financial freedom the scholarships provide have been allowing me to continue exploring the field of medicine,” she said. “Not only is it allowing me to choose a job that I love, but it’s allowing me to work part time instead of full time. The Rutledge Scholarship has given me the balance that I needed to pursue a career that I love while being the best mother, wife and student that I can be.”

That kind of experience means so much to the Rutledges.

“I hope that one day when you are successful in your lives – and I know that you will be – you will take a look back and help someone else,” Karen Rutledge said. “Step up and give back. It is extremely rewarding.”

Photo: Tom Rutledge '77 and Karen Rutledge, along with PennWest leadership, gather with student recipients of Rutledge scholarships PennWest California.