By Amy Matzke-Fawcett
Will Giandoni '02 did not envision he would someday be funding scholarships for Old Dominion University history students. In fact, he almost didn't graduate from college at all.
During his junior year in 2001, Giandoni called his father to say he wanted to drop out of ODU. Giandoni was never a great student: He had undiagnosed ADHD and cycled through three majors before landing in the Department of History.
But that day, his father talked him out of leaving school by reminding him that a degree would help him hone his skills and be a better job candidate.
He's now grateful for that advice, which he credits with helping him become a successful entrepreneur. He has started two thriving businesses in the Washington, D.C. area, one of which he's since sold, and funded endowed scholarships at the University. ODU taught him facts and figures, he said, but also how to use critical thinking skills.
"If you can defend your thoughts and position, you can do anything," he said.
Giandoni's studies also gave him opportunities him to connect with his Mexican heritage, research and travel to Latin America to visit historical sites.
"It allowed me to be immersed in the culture and understand people today and how they have been influenced by people 50, 100 or 1,000 years ago," he said.
His experiences at ODU inspired Giandoni to create the Giandoni Awards in History in 2020. Six scholarships were created to help students in need access the opportunities he was afforded. This is in addition to a 2017 scholarship Giandoni endowed called the Giandoni-Onuschalk Scholarship, which gives financial assistance to an undergraduate in need. It is named for Giandoni's grandparents, William and Carmen Giandoni and John and Anna Onuschalk, because of their focus on education, he said.
The Department of History hosted a luncheon in late spring for awardees to meet Giandoni and network with each other.
The scholarships can support students who would "otherwise not be able to pursue a degree in history and who might want to use a degree in history to start a career in one of the many professional fields that are not directly related to historical research or teaching, but where an education in history provides unique skills when it comes to analyzing information, detecting fake information, identifying sources and materials, and many more," said Ingo Heidbrink, professor and chair of the Department of History.
Sebastian Fuentes, a rising senior, said the scholarship provides more than financial support. He received the Giandoni Scholarship in History, an award given to undergraduate students to help defray the cost of tuition. There are also endowed scholarships for Study Abroad, Undergraduate Research, Outstanding Undergraduate Research and Graduate Research.
The idea that an alumnus who has taken the same classes and "walked the steps he once did," is important, Fuentes said.
"Many people talk the talk about helping their community, and the actions he has taken to walk the walk and do what he can to aid the history department community at ODU is especially admirable and provides the biggest impact," Fuentes said.
Giandoni said those ideas are central to his life's philosophy. He also follows two pieces of advice his uncle gave him years ago - first, a person should never get too full of themselves and believe their own nonsense, no matter how successful they are.
"The other one is very simple: be nice," he said. "Don't be naïve, but be nice and treat people well and it will come back to you."