Jennifer Priestley believes to find someone’s heart you need only to look at where they send their gifts. As for her and her husband, Stephen, their hearts lie in higher education. Recently, through a $26,000 gift to Kennesaw State University, the couple established the J. Stephen and Jennifer Lewis Priestley Doctoral Endowed Scholarship, which will be offered to students pursuing a Ph.D. in Analytics and Data Science.

The scholarship endowment is the University’s first for a Ph.D. program. Priestley, who will soon retire after serving more than 17 years at KSU, said the endowment signals the couple’s continued commitment to education. Having been instrumental in launching the institution’s Ph.D. program — the first of its kind in the country — and KSU’s School of Data Science and Analytics, she is intimately familiar with the needs of data science students.

“We believe in the mission of education because we have seen the good it can do,” Priestley said. “At the same time, we recognize the financial burden of pursuing a doctoral degree. Through this gift, we hope to open more doors for doctoral students as they explore avenues to showcase their research. When they can present and defend their research, they become a physical manifestation of Kennesaw State as a national player for research in computational sciences.”

KSU’s reputation in computational sciences is due, in part, to the efforts of Priestley. After joining the University in 2004, her love for data science and analytics quickly inspired her to collaborate with fellow faculty members and establish a new program that soon became the Department of Applied Statistics and Analytical Sciences. Shortly thereafter, Priestley aided the launch of a minor program and a Master of Science in Applied Statistics and Analytics. In 2014, Priestley was challenged to create a doctorate program that was unique not just to Kennesaw State, but to the world of higher education. In 2015, the University System of Georgia Board of Regents approved Kennesaw State’s proposal.

“There is nothing more terrifying or energizing than a blank piece of paper,” Priestley said, recalling the project.

In the years since, she has been a leader in the field, attracting some of the most qualified students to study at Kennesaw State and making a name for the institution across the globe. Priestley took her first cohort of six students to a research conference in Las Vegas where she helped pay their travel expenses. After seeing the success of having them present, Priestley made an annual tradition of helping students as much as she could with the means to travel to research conferences. Stephen Priestley, a successful executive and vice president of customer solutions at CONA Services, said he has nothing but admiration for his wife and her impact on students and the University.

“For me, it has been fun to watch Jennifer take this journey,” he said. “Anyone can see the passion she has for this program. The decision to make this gift was an easy one because this school and this program have given so much to her.”

About Kennesaw State University

A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit