Skip to main content

New Gift from Doerens Will Empower Student Success

A generous gift from Dave and Sara Doeren will establish a new initiative at NC State to support students with executive functioning challenges and those who are neurodivergent.

Their $1.25 million commitment is among the largest made by a college football coach to his NCAA-member institution. Dave Doeren has been NC State’s head coach since the 2013 season.     

“As a public, land-grant institution, NC State is committed to enrolling and empowering a wide range of students,” Chancellor Randy Woodson said. “We are honored to collaborate with the Doerens to provide additional support for talented students, so they can think and do to their full potential. This gift truly reinforces our core values of community and inclusion.

“Philanthropy helps our university innovate and achieve an even higher level of greatness. We thank the Doerens for being leaders for the entire Wolfpack and for establishing this meaningful family legacy.”

The new program being launched through the Doeren Family Fund will be called OnePack Empowered and will benefit NC State students who face challenges with executive function skills critical to academic success, such as organization, planning, setting priorities, task completion and decision making. Autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are just two of the diagnoses that could be linked to challenges in this realm, but students with these challenges also might have no formal diagnosis.

With a focus on one-on-one mentoring, individual support plans, career readiness and additional specialized assistance, the program is being designed to bolster academic and personal success and ensure students can complete their degrees.

The Doerens’ commitment will pilot the program for five years, serving up to 50 students at a time. They hope to inspire other donors to join them in contributing to OnePack Empowered as a sustainable source of support and guidance for an expanding number of participants over the next several years.

“This is about leveling the playing field so students can chase their dreams,” Dave Doeren said. “It’s about hope and creating a safe place for this population of students to go and get their needs met. We are hopeful that idea resonates with a lot of alumni and other people connected to NC State.

“It’s something the school needs and the students need, and God’s given us the ability to help,” he added.

NC State’s Division of Academic and Student Affairs (DASA) will oversee OnePackEmpowered and staff are preparing for a spring 2024 launch. Doneka Scott, vice chancellor and dean of DASA, expressed gratitude to the Doerens for recognizing a gap and stepping up to bridge it.

“This is an amazing opportunity for our institution and especially for our students who will benefit from this wraparound program,” Scott said. “The first goals in our university and DASA strategic plans are centered on students and ensuring their success. We are so grateful to the Doerens for their vision of investing in this underserved student population.

“We know this added support will change lives.”

Boo Corrigan, NC State’s director of athletics, also praised the Doerens for setting an example of giving back.

“Dave and Sara’s generosity, commitment and vision for this program will benefit so many students for years to come. I’m excited to see the impact of OnePack Empowered and I am so proud that he is the leader of our football program,” Corrigan said.

The gift represents a next step in the Doerens’ longtime, passionate advocacy and support for people with disabilities. That passion has been near and dear to their hearts, dating back two decades to their own son Jacob’s diagnosis placing him on the autism spectrum as a preschooler.

At the time, Doeren served on the football coaching staff at the University of Kansas. Jacob, the oldest of the family’s three boys, seemed to demonstrate a few developmental delays.

“We spent three or four hours watching behind one-way glass while doctors ran all of these tests,” Doeren said. “Afterward, they told us that we needed to be prepared for our son to never live outside our home or to never have a job. I was so angry. I told the doctor, ‘You have no idea what my son is capable of. How dare you limit him?’

“Since then we’ve been on a journey where we’ve gotten to meet some incredible people, but also some incredibly limiting people, situations and labels.”

As challenging as navigating grades K-12 can be for a family with a child who has disabilities, academic, social and employment opportunities can become even more limited by the time that child graduates from high school.

The Doerens have been vital advocates behind the launch of 321 Coffee, started by two Park Scholars and staffed by individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and for efforts like hiring employees with special needs in the Murphy Center’s dining operation. The NC State football team regularly interacts with and supports groups such as GiGi’s Playhouse, which provides programming and support for people with Down syndrome. 

Most of the Doerens’ personal philanthropy also has been centered on efforts to enhance opportunities for youth with special needs, such as gifts toward inclusive middle-school athletics programming.

After graduating from high school in Wake County, Jacob attended Louisburg College. The Learning Partners program there helped him navigate note-taking, time management, study skills and the like. He graduated with a 3.75 grade-point average and solid preparation to apply successfully to Appalachian State.

“The kindest people there at Louisburg just poured into our son,” Doeren said.

At Appalachian, where he’s currently a junior studying sustainable energy and technology, Jacob has benefited from a similar program called As-U-R. Weekly sessions with a mentor have proven vital to managing class assignments, advocating for himself with professors or asking for a few accommodations when needed.

The Doerens initiated conversations several months ago with Woodson and others at the university about how they could support something similar here.

“Jacob is doing so well,” Sara Doeren said. “We just want other students to have the same opportunities. It made sense to help make that happen at NC State.”

“At some point, I definitely thought, ‘It’s too bad the school I work at, with so many alumni, in the capital city of North Carolina and so many young people who could benefit in Wake County alone, doesn’t have something like this,’” Dave Doeren said. “Why wouldn’t we be at the forefront? I was very thankful Chancellor Woodson understood the need and opportunity at NC State.”

Kesha Reed, associate vice chancellor and associate dean in DASA, is excited about OnePack Empowered. Reed brings expertise in underserved student populations and disability support programming. “There is a definite need for this,” she said.

The application process is being developed. Admission to OnePack Empowered will be individualized, inclusive and open, Reed said, with students not required to have a formal diagnosis registered through the university’s Disability Resource Office. However, for context, she said that of the 1,845 students currently registered with the office, 57% could potentially have challenges with executive functioning. 

“We’re not talking about students being admitted [NC State] through a special process,” Doeren said. “We’re talking about students who have been accepted to the university, who are very academically capable but might benefit from something as simple as a mentor to walk consistently alongside them. This is a special group of people who too often get labeled and limited. Instead of avenues for success they get roadblocks.

“I’d like to open people’s eyes to the fact that with just a little extra support, a lot of kids can be wildly successful.”

Much of the new funding for OnePack Empowered will go toward adding dedicated staff and training them. Reed said the program will be able to utilize and leverage an existing structure within DASA that includes the Academic Success Center, Disability Resource Office, Advising and Exploratory Studies as well as take advantage of embedded resources such as counselors, tutors and academic and career advisors.

OnePack Empowered will be housed under the umbrella of the Career Development Center, and its career-preparation emphasis will be fairly unique.

A cornerstone will be carefully trained student mentors who will be paired with participants as role models and links to resources. Parent engagement will be incorporated into the program as a vital element as well.

“We’re looking at holistic support that’s really helping students build that self-confidence that they can be partners in working toward their success,” Reed said. “We’re guiding them in that process. We want to build a community that students want to be part of, where they can be excited and engaged.”

Reed and other staff members are in the midst of hiring a program manager to direct OnePack Empowered and to plan for additional staffing. They have developed a framework that includes four learning outcomes for students:  

  • Identify, prioritize and use campus resources that support their NC State success.
  • Develop a success plan to accomplish their academic and career goals.
  • Evaluate successful and challenging experiences to guide decision-making.
  • Develop a sense of community within the OnePack Empowered cohort. 

In addition to the program at Appalachian State that focuses on students with executive functioning challenges, Reed said there are two other UNC System institutions providing individualized support for students with specific disabilities: STEPP at East Carolina University and The Learning Center at UNC-Chapel Hill, both of which focus on ADHD and other specific disabilities.

“One of the things that college is supposed to do is prepare you to succeed in the real world,” Doeren said. “We’re failing a lot of kids in our country. The biggest leading factor is people not believing in themselves or having someone else to believe in them. That’s what OnePack Empowered is about: caring about this part of our community.”

For more information on OnePack Empowered, contact Kesha Reed at

Make a gift to the OnePack Empowered Enhancement Fund at this link. To learn more about investing in the program, contact Nicki Peterson, executive director of development, Division of Academic and Student Affairs, at

This post was originally published in Giving News.