Carnegie Mellon University

Equal Access to Creativity

Alumnus Francis Collins and Wife, Erin, Provide Essential Supplies for First-Year CFA Students

written by
Lauren Stash

It’s a simple idea with a huge impact: When students have the right tools to succeed, opportunities and possibilities increase.

For those in the arts, the cost of supplies and materials adds up quickly and can be a significant barrier to creativity.

That’s why the partnership with the College of Fine Arts and alumnus Francis Collins, along with his wife, Erin, may look unassuming, but its impact is invaluable.

Francis and Erin Collins with a skyline in the background.

The Collins Family Fund provides first-year students in CFA’s School of Art with essential materials and tools to complete instructional assignments for their required foundational courses.

“Students should be able to create and have fun. I’m giving to CMU because I know it’s helping students do that.”

Francis Collins

Francis built his success in CMU’s backyard. He grew up in Pittsburgh’s South Oakland neighborhood, attended high school at Central Catholic and enrolled at Carnegie Tech to earn his bachelor’s degree in fine arts.

“I wanted to stay close to home, and Carnegie Tech had painting and art,” Francis says. “I was actually the first graduating class in 1967 when it became Carnegie Mellon University.”

An adventurous spirit, he traveled westward after graduation where he met his wife, Erin, when they were both studying — for their master’s and bachelor’s degrees, respectively — at the University of California, Berkeley. As someone who liked to work with his hands, he went from making art to a career in residential and commercial construction.

The Collins' wedding day.

Nearly 60 years later, he’s reconnected to his Pittsburgh roots to support the talents of CMU students.

“I really liked being at CMU and had a great experience,” Francis says. “I also remember the times I had to borrow money to make it all happen, and now that I’m older, I can give some back.”

The Collins Family Fund makes possible the School of Art’s “Material Fee-Free Foundations Year,” which is in a three-year pilot. It’s the perfect complement to the new holistic curriculum in the School of Art, which is in its second year.

Imin Yeh, director of foundational studies and associate professor in the School of Art, is grateful for the transformation in culture the fund fosters.

“We are a small school, and a gift like this lets everyone figure out what they love.”

Imin Yeh
Associate Professor of Art
Director of Foundational Studies

"The fund allows the whole department to be more collaborative and careful in our curriculum and to ask questions about what is truly needed and what materials can serve multiple purposes," Yeh says.

Artistic industries are seeing a return to learning through making, and with the Collins Family Fund in place, CMU students will be uniquely positioned to excel.

Students in the School of Art come from a wide range of backgrounds, and the goal of the new curriculum structure is to give them exposure to all mediums while ensuring equitable access. The idea is that if students are required to try a number of new things, they should have access to the same quality and availability of materials. Shaping the foundation year in that way gives them exposure they may not have had previously and allows them to jump into their coursework on an even playing field with their peers.

Head of the School of Art Charlie White says that Francis brings a unique perspective to his philanthropy and a much-needed resource to students.

“He’s giving money to students who are like the student he was,” White says. “Today’s supply costs didn’t exist in his time, so he’s helping students who are in a situation that is familiar to him.”

Francis agrees and is pleased to have the chance to support the momentum of innovation similar to the one he and his peers were a part of 60 years ago.

“It’s the process of life. People help you, and if you get to be successful, you help others along the way. It’s that simple.”

Francis Collins

The Collins Family Fund shows that gifts of any size can add up to big changes for Tartans. School of Art students share how Francis and Erin Collins' support has impacted their CMU experiences.

“I think it makes students really happy to feel like the school is willing to invest money in us. Not only does it make things more accessible but it makes students feel valued — like CMU really wants you to succeed.”

“(The Collins Family Fund) helped me think big and do things I've never done before. I've never had access to so many supplies at once to make my art practice larger and better than it ever has been.”

“At many points in the semester, I was afraid to explore more material-consuming ideas in my art because I felt hindered by the limited resources at my disposal. I greatly appreciated the drawing pads that were given because of their versatile utility. By not having to worry about whether the logistics of an artwork will succeed, I am able to truly exercise my skill to its fullest potential.”

featuring the following:

image of alumnus Francis Collins and College of Fine Arts Dean Mary Ellen Poole in Francis’ studio with his sculptural work

images of Francis and Erin Collins: skyline and marriage photos