Seed funding will bolster innovative research projects in psychology

A family legacy of UNC alumni and a passion for lifelong learning continue to inspire Ann Rankin Cowan (psychology ’75) to give back to Carolina.

Ann Rankin Cowan
Ann Rankin Cowan’s latest gift will establish a fund to support high-impact research. (photo by Benvil Photography)

Cowan is an avid supporter of the arts and sciences and committed to passing down that tradition. Her most recent gift, supported through a planned gift and the Cowan Family Foundation, establishes the Ann Rankin Cowan Excellence Fund for High-Impact Research, which will help advance early-stage research projects in the department of psychology and neuroscience.

The new fund will provide seed funding for scientists working in a variety of fields, including addiction, stress and mental and behavioral disorders.

A Raleigh native, Cowan fell in love with Chapel Hill and UNC’s campus at an early age by going to basketball games and through the influence of a lineage of UNC faithful. In fact, 17 family members spanning three generations have graduated from Carolina. The Rankin clan holds an impressive 26 degrees from UNC and includes Morehead Scholars, editors for The Daily Tar Heel, a UNC Clef Hanger, a former president of the General Alumni Association and a former mayor of Chapel Hill.

It was an abnormal psychology course during her sophomore year that led her to discover a passion for psychology.

“Although I was always interested in the sciences, this course sparked my curiosity. To this day, I’m fascinated with human behavior and the why behind human behavior,” she said.

However, it was her other passions as a student that first inspired her philanthropy to UNC’s College of Arts & Sciences. At Carolina, Cowan was a member of Chi Omega sorority and Carolina Choir. In 2008, she co-led the campaign to establish the Chi Omega Distinguished Professorship; several years later, she funded a backstage green room in Hill Hall when it underwent a major renovation.

Her continued generosity through the Cowan Family Foundation and campaign involvement led her to meet Karen Gil, then dean of the College, who inspired her to look for new ways to give back, which led to the Ann Rankin Cowan Lecture Series in her old department.

After the lecture’s immense success in bringing accomplished scholars to campus and hearing about their transformative research, Cowan knew she wanted to do more. Thus, the idea behind the Ann Rankin Cowan Excellence Fund for High-Impact Research was born.

“I wanted to help get a project off the ground and then be able to ask, ‘what’s the next project?’ Five years from now, it could be something we’ve never heard of. To me, that’s what’s so exciting about this,” Cowan said.

Cowan credits her late father, Edward Rankin Jr. ’40, with instilling in her a responsibility to give back. “He is my inspiration for all of this and encouraged me to give out of gratitude for the education and experience I received.”

Cowan is a member of the Arts and Sciences Foundation Board of Directors, the Carolina Women’s Leadership Council and a proud parent of a 2012 graduate (also a psychology major and Chi Omega alumna).

“Carolina opens your world, giving you a curiosity to go out and discover your passion and what you want to do with your life. How you choose to give back enriches your whole life and provides you with the platform to use your education and to continue it,” she said.

By Erin Kelley ’13