28-year-old alum Heather Knar creates endowed STEM scholarship

‘It’s About Our Responsibility to the Future’

Heather Knar is the first to admit that establishing an endowed scholarship isn’t on everyone’s “Under 30” checklist. 

But as the first of her family to go to college, Knar said the scholarships she received while studying mathematics and applied economics at the University of Northern Iowa opened worlds of possibilities for her. So much so that as students she and her future husband Rob dreamed about paying it forward one day.

“These were opportunities I didn't ever envision for myself, because I didn't have the experience of other people going [to college] before me,” Knar recalls. “I felt like, ‘Oh, that doesn't happen to people like me. I'm just a regular person.’”When Knar’s grandmother died and left an inheritance, Heather and Rob decided the time was right to make someone else’s dreams come true. Rather than saving the money for a rainy day or donating later on in life, the two worked with the UNI Foundation to create the HMK STEM Scholarship Endowment.

“Being able to see the good that it'll bring throughout our lifetimes was something that was really attractive, and it motivated us to do it now instead of waiting,” Knar said. 

The couple chose to support STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) because of their personal affiliation to the field – Rob says he had a great experience studying electrical engineering technology at UNI before ultimately graduating with a degree in physics from another university – but also because of what Heather described as a “responsibility to the future.” She said she hopes others will be inspired to join the Our Tomorrow campaign and support tomorrow’s students.

“Our Tomorrow really speaks to the fact that it's our collective responsibility to think about the future and the way we want it to be,” Heather said. “I see a lot of problems on the horizon, like climate change … A lot of these problems need new, diverse people in science fields to help create the solutions.”

“To do this, we’re going to need college to be more accessible to many different types of people,” she added. “Because that's where you get diversity of thought – to think of something totally new and outside of the box.”

Heather, ‘17, and Rob Knar have established an endowed scholarship for first- and second-year STEM majors. Natives of Mundelein, IL, they each enrolled at UNI in 2013 after Rob was recruited to the UNI men’s basketball team. The couple now resides in the Des Moines area.