Alumna’s $5 Gift Transforms into Immersive Learning Fund

October 21, 2021

When Sara Jo Manning ‘58 ‘60 graduated from what was then called Peace College, she knew she wanted to support her alma mater. She began her commitment with a $5 gift each year. Decades later, Manning’s act of support grew in size and time. She established the Manning Music Fund (2007), led numerous WPU boards and most recently, she created the Manning Immersive Learning Experiences Fund. 

The Manning Immersive Learning Experiences Fund provides students with educational and cultural experiences, she said. Managed by William Peace University’s Center for Immersive Learning (CIL), the fund will expose students to new learning possibilities.

Established in 2020, CIL provides hands-on experience in an active environment. Previously, CIL has allowed students to explore ruins in Mexico and study animals on the verge of extinction. Manning is excited to see the new enterprises her fund will provide. 

The fund is focused on enriching and growing student lives, Manning says. It will also provide for an annual activity with the NC Symphony and an annual speaker or performance focused on cultural and diverse programming.

Sara Jo Manning with mentee Megan McAnany
Sara Jo Manning with mentee Megan McAnany.

“I want the students to have an opportunity to expand on what they know and what they like,” Manning said. “Students will be exposed to culture and this makes life so much happier.”

The fund, first established as the Manning Music Fund in 2007, was started to provide students with exposure to live concerts. Manning said it shifted focus to promote the Believe in Peace Strategic Plan. Part of the strategic plan focused on growing students through immersive learning.

When Manning first heard she could support this type of learning, she was “pleased to no end.” 

Manning remembers when she was a student at William Peace, she had her own “immersive experiences.” She recalls visiting the hospital for her health class and going to the symphony for her music courses. She said these experiences taught her things she couldn’t learn in a classroom.

She can’t imagine what opportunities professors and students will create with this fund. “My thoughts of possibilities are nothing compared to what the professors can come up with and provide,” Manning said. I am eager to see how they will use this opportunity.” 

Manning’s Advice for Students
Alumna Sara Jo Manning `58,`60, William Peace Medallion winner, has supported alumni and students for decades. How does she suggest others learn to make an impact? By learning how to grow themselves.

“The simplest thing that I can say is to take advantage of every opportunity you’re given to expand your knowledge, especially of cultural opportunities. They don’t have to be your favorite opportunities, but you should try them,” Manning said. “Learn how to recognize these opportunities and take advantage of them. In the fullness of time, you become more educated and grow a desire to give back to the community.”


Manning graduated from Peace Preparatory in 1958 and then received her Associate of Arts degree from Peace College in 1960. After WPU, Manning
attended UNC-Chapel Hill where she graduated with her Bachelor of Arts degree in English Education and her Master of Education in Guidance. This recent gift comes after decades of dedication and philanthropy from Manning. She is a member of the William Peace Society, the university’s lifetime giving society, and now, The Heritage Society. She made WPU a beneficiary in her estate.

Manning’s first gift to WPU started a few years after graduation with a $5 annual gift. Her support grew in the years that followed, both financially and timewise. Manning served in leadership roles in the Alumni Association Board, the Board of Visitors, the Sesquicentennial Commemoration Committee, and also as a class agent and as a Pacer Partner Mentor. 

Manning’s contributions have impacted thousands of students and alumni. Her dedication to WPU was awarded in 2019 with the William Peace Medallion, the highest and most prestigious (non-academic) recognition that can be awarded by the University

Manning says her dedication to philanthropy is because of her education at WPU. Because the university encouraged her to be involved in extracurriculars, she learned how to give back outside of class. That lesson grew with her as she went to receive her bachelor’s, master’s, and then in her career. WPU gave her a foundation of faith and generosity.

“I grew up at Peace… it gave me so many opportunities,” Manning said.  “Peace has been good to me.”

To learn how you can give courageously in support of WPU, visit peace.edu/give.

Sara Jo Manning ‘58 ‘60

Sara Jo Manning graduated from Peace Preparatory in 1958 and Peace College in 1960 with an Associate of Arts degree. Manning also received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English Education and her Master of Education in Guidance from UNC-Chapel Hill

Since then, Manning has served in leadership on the Alumni Association Board, the Board of Visitors, the Sesquicentennial Commemoration Committee, and as a class agent. 

Outside of WPU, Manning worked as the Secretary to the Bishop of The (Episcopal) Diocese of North Carolina for many years before retiring in 2002. She also served on the Board of Directors for both The United Arts Council from 2000-2001 and the North Carolina Prevention of Blindness from 1981-87, and as the Vice President of the Raleigh Arts Commission in 1990. She sat on the executive committee of the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, and The Junior League of Raleigh once called Manning their President. Additionally, she was named an Outstanding Young Women in America.