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By Living Modestly and Giving Back Most of His Income, Northern Virginia Community College Mathematics Professor Donates $1 Million to Help the Students He Teaches

Dr. Richard Semmler fulfills his commitment by giving his employer of 45 years $1 million before his retirement.

Dr. Richard Semmler fulfills his commitment by giving his employer of 45 years $1 million before his retirement
Dr. Richard Semmler fulfills his commitment by giving his employer of 45 years $1 million before his retirement

ANNANDALE, Va. (Nov. 1, 2018) -- Dr. Semmler has made a profound impact during his long career teaching mathematics at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA). He has lived modestly, with no frills - no phone, no internet, no vacations, no new car while living in a small apartment and working several part-time jobs in addition to his full-time teaching position, because he would rather use his income to help change the lives of his students.

Every day since 1973, Dr. Richard Semmler helped young minds learn calculus and algebra at NOVA. But, he doesn’t only share the basics about formulas, equations, and factoring, he also teaches life lessons about giving back to the community and donating time to important causes. As a volunteer for various charities around the Metro-DC area, Dr. Semmler has taken his classes to build houses for the homeless and to feed the hungry at soup kitchens. He has been steadfast in his commitment to being an outstanding professor, as well as a role model, for every student, in each of his classes. 

But, Dr. Semmler goes a step further for those who need a little more assistance. He has been donating to NOVA for years, using his hard-earned money to provide scholarships and financial aid to hundreds of students who wouldn’t be able to attend college, without his help.    

Dr. Semmler can relate to the students who need this extra assistance. As the son of a Webster electrician and a secretary who couldn’t afford to send their son to college, Dr. Semmler always dreamed of attending a university and earning a degree. Fortunately, with dedication, commitment, and hard work as a high school track star, Dr. Semmler received the financial support he needed to allow him to attend Plattsburgh State University of New York. He was awarded several scholarships throughout his college career, and he never forgot the impact it made on his life. He relished every moment of school, succeeding as an athlete and excelling as a college cross country and track super-star, serving as the captain and MVP of both teams. He was also enrolled in the honors program at Plattsburg and won the first ever state scholar-athlete award. These important achievements made him treasure each experience and every class. And, after receiving his undergraduate degree from Plattsburg in 1968, Dr. Semmler decided he wanted to pay it forward by making his first donation of $25 to his alma mater, beginning a lifetime of giving.  

Since Dr. Semmler’s college scholarships made such a difference for him -- he decided that he wanted to make the same kind of difference in the lives of others. And, so it became his mission. 

“My dollars go to very specific projects, so I know what I’m funding. And, I get to witness it firsthand every day in my classroom,” Dr. Semmler said.  

Dr. Semmler receives handwritten thank you notes from the students he helps and he saves them all. 

“I enjoy each and every thank you note. They mean so much to me. But the thank you’s aren’t always written, they come in many different forms. A few years back, a student in one of my math courses, who sat in the front row, would get emotional and tear-up during each class. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong and he continued to disrupt the classroom and the other students. When he started taking pictures of me with his cell phone, I asked him to come to my office after class. I inquired what was wrong, and if I could help. He shared his story with me and said he recognized me from my work at Habitat for Humanity. He thought I was the man who helped build his families’ home. He had taken a few photos to show his dad, to make sure I was the right person. I was – it was one of the first homes I helped build for Habitat, and it was the first home his family had ever lived in, it was an incredible moment, for both of us. I will never forget it”.

This student’s home was only one of the 100 houses Dr. Semmler has built for deserving families at Habitat for Humanity. And, he sees the determination of students just like this often – their struggles, their strengths, their ability to overcome personal obstacles and achieve success, especially in school. By donating most of his income back to NOVA, he makes a difference in student’s lives, helping them earn an education, and that means more to him than any luxury possibly could.  

Dr. Semmler’s contributions and generosity don’t end with NOVA. He also dedicates his time and money to other local causes including Habitat for Humanity, the Fuller Center, Ernest Angley Ministries, Central Union Mission, Crystal Cathedral Ministries and his alma mater, Plattsburgh State University of New York. Dr. Semmler has given these organizations a combined total of more than $1 million as well. In fact, the Fuller Center named a street after him in La Florida, Peru, where he helped fund a row of homes for disadvantaged residents of the area.      

While recently retired, Dr. Semmler continues making personal sacrifices in his own life to help these organizations. He hopes that he can inspire others to give of themselves.  

Dr. Semmler has recommendations on how to donate to charities that make a difference, “My advice is to give funds to people or to families. Scholarships for students, homes for families, meals for the homeless. To me, those are the three most important causes, that’s what can change a person’s life”. 

A celebration of Dr. Semmler and his milestone $1 million donation to NOVA will be held at a special recognition luncheon on Wednesday, November 14 at the NOVA Annandale Campus in the Ernst Center Gym from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Various NOVA donors and scholarship recipients will be in attendance; including the latest group of students who have earned scholarships through Dr. Semmler’s generosity. Dr. Semmler will also give a brief presentation about the importance and impact of giving. The luncheon will be immediately followed by a special cake reception for Dr. Semmler with his family, friends, and colleagues in attendance, beginning at 1:45 p.m. in the Ernst Center Forum, one floor above the gym.   

You can view past media coverage of Dr. Semmler from his previous donations to NOVA here:

Chronicle of Philanthropy video on Dr. Semmler’s generosity: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=richard+semmler&&view=detail&mid=0D08C8D8A685CF2089D80D08C8D8A685CF2089D8&&FORM=VRDGAR

Transcript of 20/20 TV story with Dr. Semmler and other donors about the importance of giving: https://abcnews.go.com/WN/story?id=4045409&page=1 

NOVA video of the Semmler Medallion – a special NOVA award created in Dr. Semmler’s name: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=richard+semmler&&view=detail&mid=8D46022555BA16D786C88D46022555BA16D786C8&&FORM=VRDGAR

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.