Impact of PDGR program is deep and wide

The Professional Development Grants for Retirees (PDGR) program is the only grant program in the United States to offer funding to retirees who want to continue their intellectual work. Whether in their academic field or starting something fresh, PDGR grant recipients can stay engaged for personal fulfillment and also for greater academic and societal benefit. Since 2009, the PDGR program has awarded more than 130 grants for a wide range of projects, from advancing international prevention science to documenting the life of civil rights activist and University leader Josie Johnson. 

To date, these grants have helped to generate nine books, 48 journal articles, and an untold number of public and professional presentations. In addition, a mix of videos, websites, public exhibits, software, and educational material has been produced or updated with PDGR funding. Many of these achievements are recognized and used nationally and internationally, thus enhancing the reputation of the University of Minnesota. 

Most grant recipients (71 percent) said the PDGR program was their only source of funding. More than half the others said their PDGR awards helped them to leverage additional funds. 

Engineering Professor Emeritus Patrick Brezonik received nearly $680,000 in National Science Foundation and other grants. He said, “I am convinced that none of these grants would have been obtained without the seed funding the PDGR provided.”

Gaining new knowledge

In a survey of grant recipients from 2014 to 2019, PDGR grant recipients cite the benefits of gaining new knowledge and expanding professional networks. Many received recognition, requests for keynote presentations, and offers to organize sessions or write (or edit) a book on topics originally supported with a PDGR grant. 

Emeritus Professor of History William D. Phillips Jr., to cite just one example, used his grant to study the ethnographic observations of foreign travelers in Iberia in the 15th and 16th centuries. “It enabled me to begin a successful post-retirement trajectory of scholarship,” he said.

Strikinglymore than two thirds of the projects have benefited society at large, both in the United States and around the world. 

2014-19 PDGR-supported projects

Here is a sampling of the projects supported over the past five years.

Art. A dance film based on a refugee's memoirs of Nazi Germany; new metal sculptures, displayed worldwide.

Early modern history. Evidence of global trade through a study of dress and textiles in Nigeria; foreign travelers' views of slavery in 15th and 16th century Iberia.

Education and learning. A new approach in learner social identity for people acquiring a second language; a multicultural video series showing parent-child interaction, and a new company to disseminate the videos.

Environment. Determining water quality in lakes through remote sensing; how Spanish fishermen controlled the mainstay tuna population in the 14th to 16th centuries; a video series on the critical importance of mining to the U.S. economy and national security. 

Exemplary achievement. A biography of a woman who contributed to the successes of both Planned Parenthood and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area; folk and fairy tales of a forgotten folklorist; early American Indian writers—the “founding mothers” of Native American literature.

Health. Using biostatistical data to develop approaches leading to better outcomes for younger AIDs patients; analyzing circadian rhythms in chronomics.

History. Interviews with women in Minnesota local government 1970–2000; archiving historic documents on campus religious organizations; collecting an oral history of the founders of early lesbian organizations in Minnesota.

The human condition. Suffering and quality of life; evolutionary developmental psychology theory on personality and how individuals respond to the environment.

Racial equity. Josie Johnson's civil rights memoir; a history of the U of M's early racial housing policies; an online anti-bias course for New York police.

Statistics. Summarizing large amounts of data with a single number; game theory.

A complete listing of the projects supported since 2009 can be found under Grants for Retirees on the UMRA website.

—Will Craig, member, UMRA Board of Directors



Make your own discoveries in Portugal in 2025 on this journey to medieval monasteries, fertile vineyards and cities that are equal parts history and modern energy. Deadline to express an interest is Friday June 7, 2024.


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Embrace the colorful history of the Canadian Maritime provinces for 11 nights in 2025. Express your interest by June 7, 2024.


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Spend 9 nights on the Douro River in Portugal in 2025. Express your interest by June 7, 2024.


Embrace and explore Mexico City as it showcases all facets of Mexico’s national character in 2025. Deadline to express an interest is Friday, June 7, 2024.


Bright and bold living history awaits you in beautiful St. Augustine, Florida in 2025. Express your interest by June 7, 2024.


The election of UMRA officers and new board members for 2024–25 will be conducted via an online poll from May 13 to 19, with the results to be announced at our annual meeting on May 21. Look for the ballot in your email inbox on May 13. Diane Young has been nominated to be president-elect.


“I convinced myself I could handle this problem without support groups or doing additional research, but that’s only because I didn’t want to make it any more real than it already was. Denial comes in many forms, and one is to avoid thinking about the problem any more than need be.” —Alice A. Larson


Meet UMRA member Peter Moe. He retired in 2023 after a career that spanned nearly half a century at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, and is credited with developing the “Arb” into one of the few in the U.S. with world-class fruit and landscape breeding programs.


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The University plans to remove retirees from the internet identity domain on December 7. UMRA has advocated for ensuring continued access to this identity (including email, Google Workspace, and associated services), citing University retirees’ enduring contributions to and engagement with the University. Thus far, our efforts have not prompted any change of plans. 


Leading the online Journal of Opinions, Ideas & Essays has been a labor of love for Kris Bettin. Alas, a change in family needs has necessitated her retirement. So, JOIE is seeking a new leader to join a savvy editorial committee of five and bring fresh ideas for continued development of the UMRA-sponsored journal.


If you’re looking for an opportunity to explore your photographic interests, hone your photographic skills, and hear what other retirees are up to, the UMRA Photo Club is a great place to be. We have fun! And whatever your skill level, there is room for everybody. 


Soon you will receive an email or letter inviting you to renew your UMRA membership for the 2024–25 year. Please renew before you get busy with your summer activities. Your support helps to make our programs and many other member benefits possible!


This will be a new regular column where you can find organizational tasks that need your help! We are currently looking for help researching a new UMRA Membership Database and URVC volunteer database, and a co-producer for UMRA's Zoom webinars. See more details: