Skip to main content

Giving Graduate Students a Boost

Dr. James J. O'Brien

Dr. James J. O'Brien

Though Dr. James "Jim" O'Brien formally retired in 2005, most days you'll still find him at the Center of Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies (COAPS) on the southwest campus of Florida State University. "I flunked retirement," he says with a jocular smile.

Jim has been a fixture at Florida State for more than 40 years. He was dubbed "Dr. El Niño" by the late Bernie Sliger (president from 1976 to 1991) for his work in forecasting El Niño and its implications for the people of Florida and the Southeast region. During his tenure at Florida State, he was responsible for overseeing a total of 45 doctoral and 80 master's students in completing their degrees. "My great pleasure is finishing graduate students," he says.

To that end, Jim and his late wife, Sheila, established the Jim and Sheila O'Brien Graduate Fellowship, which supports doctoral candidates who have submitted a prospectus to either the oceanography or meteorology department in the College of Arts and Sciences. The fellowship provides supplementary stipends for students studying air-sea interaction and physical oceanography.

Ensuring That Support Continues

Though Jim currently makes a gift annually to award the fellowship, he and Sheila made the decision to donate their home to Florida State to ensure the fellowship will be there for students long after they are gone. "The idea of giving Florida State our home grew on me naturally," he says. "Former president T.K. Wetherell willed his home to Florida State a few years back and that got me thinking. I said to my wife, ‘Why don't we do that?' And to my surprise, she was on board with the idea."

Jim's three grown children were also supportive of the plan, telling him to spend his money how he wanted. "I had the support of my family all the way," he says. "I viewed it as saving my children the hassle of having to clean out, renovate and sell the house!"

Have You Considered Donating Your Home?
If you would like to receive a current income tax deduction for the gift of your home, but want to continue living there for the rest of your life, you can give the University a "remainder interest" in your home and retain a "life estate" for yourself. If at any time you decide to relinquish the right to continue living in the home, you may do so.

In Jim's case, he chose to live in his home after Sheila's passing until he remarried. "When I got remarried, I didn't want to live in her house and she didn't want to live in mine so we decided to buy a new place together." Jim's house is currently on the market. Once it sells, the proceeds will fully endow the fellowship established by him and his wife.

"In the Middle Ages, scientists and artists were sponsored by the wealthy," Jim says. "I would equate that to today's graduate students. Most will need a little financial boost to finish their dissertation, and a little bit of money goes a long way toward that goal."


A charitable bequest is one or two sentences in your will or living trust that leave to Florida State University a specific item, an amount of money, a gift contingent upon certain events or a percentage of your estate.

an individual or organization designated to receive benefits or funds under a will or other contract, such as an insurance policy, trust or retirement plan

"I give to Florida State University, a nonprofit corporation currently located at Tallahassee, Florida, or its successor thereto, ______________* [written amount or percentage of the estate or description of property] for its unrestricted use and purpose."

able to be changed or cancelled

A revocable living trust is set up during your lifetime and can be revoked at any time before death. They allow assets held in the trust to pass directly to beneficiaries without probate court proceedings and can also reduce federal estate taxes.

cannot be changed or cancelled

tax on gifts generally paid by the person making the gift rather than the recipient

the original value of an asset, such as stock, before its appreciation or depreciation

the growth in value of an asset like stock or real estate since the original purchase

the price a willing buyer and willing seller can agree on

The person receiving the gift annuity payments.

the part of an estate left after debts, taxes and specific bequests have been paid

a written and properly witnessed legal change to a will

the person named in a will to manage the estate, collect the property, pay any debt, and distribute property according to the will

A donor advised fund is an account that you set up but which is managed by a nonprofit organization. You contribute to the account, which grows tax-free. You can recommend how much (and how often) you want to distribute money from that fund to the FSU Foundation or other charities. You cannot direct the gifts.

An endowed gift can create a new endowment or add to an existing endowment. The principal of the endowment is invested and a portion of the principal’s earnings are used each year to support our mission.

Tax on the growth in value of an asset—such as real estate or stock—since its original purchase.

Securities, real estate or any other property having a fair market value greater than its original purchase price.

Real estate can be a personal residence, vacation home, timeshare property, farm, commercial property or undeveloped land.

A charitable remainder trust provides you or other named individuals income each year for life or a period not exceeding 20 years from assets you give to the trust you create.

You give assets to a trust that pays our organization set payments for a number of years, which you choose. The longer the length of time, the better the potential tax savings to you. When the term is up, the remaining trust assets go to you, your family or other beneficiaries you select. This is an excellent way to transfer property to family members at a minimal cost.

You fund this type of trust with cash or appreciated assets—and may qualify for a federal income tax charitable deduction when you itemize. You can also make additional gifts; each one also qualifies for a tax deduction. The trust pays you, each year, a variable amount based on a fixed percentage of the fair market value of the trust assets. When the trust terminates, the remaining principal goes to the FSU Foundation as a lump sum.

You fund this trust with cash or appreciated assets—and may qualify for a federal income tax charitable deduction when you itemize. Each year the trust pays you or another named individual the same dollar amount you choose at the start. When the trust terminates, the remaining principal goes to the FSU Foundation as a lump sum.

A beneficiary designation clearly identifies how specific assets will be distributed after your death.

A charitable gift annuity involves a simple contract between you and the FSU Foundation where you agree to make a gift to the FSU Foundation and we, in return, agree to pay you (and someone else, if you choose) a fixed amount each year for the rest of your life.

Personal Estate Planning Kit Request Form

Please provide the following information to view the materials for planning your estate.

eBrochure Request Form

Please provide the following information to view the brochure.