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Retired NOVA Math Professor Is One in a Million

Semmler Day
Dr. Semmler speaking about his time at NOVA.
Dr. Semmler and Dr. Ralls
Dr. Semmler cutting the cake with his previous students and Dr. Ralls.

Dr. Richard Semmler, a recently retired NOVA professor, was honored on November 14 at a special scholarship luncheon and dessert reception to celebrate his incredible $1 million donation to NOVA. Friends, students, and former colleagues came out to congratulate Dr. Semmler on his generosity and to recognize the personal sacrifices he made to provide funds for student scholarships at NOVA.

Dr. Semmler was the recipient of scholarship funds when he was in college and he knew that he wanted to pay it forward one day. That day came in 1968 for Dr. Semmler when he bestowed his first donation in the amount of $25 to his alma matter Plattsburgh State University of New York. Over time that increased as he made various financial contributions and went without vacations, a new car, a cell phone, and many other luxuries to reach the $1 million dollar mark to NOVA, or as he put it “the caboose finally made it to the train station.”

Former NOVA student Tom Motak and current NOVA student Lisbeth Valladares were on-hand at the event to personally express their gratitude as recipients of his scholarship generosity. Tom will be graduating summa cum laude from George Mason in the spring and is currently working in NOVA’s Print Services department. Lisbeth Valladares, originally from El Salvador is the first in her family to graduate from middle school, and then high school and soon college with an associate’s in education in the STEM field.

Dr. Semmler receives and cherishes the letters of appreciation that students send him and he saves them all. “I enjoy each and every thank you note I receive. They mean so much to me,” said Dr. Semmler.

NOVA President Dr. Ralls is in awe how Dr. Semmler has used his modest teacher’s salary to make this all happen. “I’ve never seen someone more committed; someone who has made more personal sacrifices for others than Richard Semmler. It’s one of the most remarkable stories I’ve ever seen,” said Dr. Ralls.

However, it goes beyond money with Dr. Semmler, he’s also a man of action donating thousands of hours of his personal time in over the years as a volunteer helping to build homes with Habitat for Humanity and working at the Fuller Center, Ernest Angley Ministries, Central Union Mission, Crystal Cathedral Ministries and Plattsburgh State University of New York. He has also donated financially to these organizations as well, contributing a total of $1 million to these six important causes.

Donating money and/or time once is honorable, but to do so consistently for 45 years and counting is exceptional! Dr. Semmler is truly an inspiration as noted by several students who attended the cake ceremony.

“It only takes a little amount, $100, $1,000, to invest in the education of a student and make a positive difference in the trajectory of their future,” said Dr. Semmler. “If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t make any changes at all.”

Media coverage on Dr. Semmler’s generosity:

NBC Washington


NOVA’s tribute video shown at the celebration:

Dr. Semmler Tribute Video

Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through NOVA Online. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.