Ahead of the Curve
Paul Hoffman’s recent gift to create an Open Doors Scholarship at Penn State Behrend makes him the first student in the college’s history to establish a scholarship.
In many ways, Paul Hoffman is a typical Penn State donor. He comes from a family of dedicated Penn Staters. He is a successful entrepreneur with a deep concern for the community in which his business operates. And he has recently partnered with Penn State to provide endowed scholarship support for students. But one thing sets him apart: he’s still a student himself.
Paul, 21, is currently a junior majoring in Accounting at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College. He started his college career at University Park but transferred back to Erie, his hometown, to manage his business, Hoffman United, an Erie-based real estate and construction company, and finish his Penn State career. His recent gift to create an Open Doors Scholarship at Penn State Behrend makes him the first student in the college’s history to establish a scholarship.
Philanthropy of this magnitude may be uncommon for someone Paul’s age, but getting an early start is perfectly in character for him. Hoffman United evolved from a lawn-care service he started when he was just twelve years old. Wanting to make some money, he canvassed the neighborhood and secured three jobs. “Every day after school, I’d mow the lawns and do any cleanup they needed,” he says. “That’s what instilled the confidence in me to be an entrepreneur.” The venture grew quickly through Paul’s high school years and after, eventually adding construction services and then real estate and property management.
Today Hoffman United owns 165 rental units in Erie and employs seventeen people. Its declared goal is to improve blighted areas of the city and enhance and transform neighborhoods by rehabilitating distressed or poorly maintained properties. “We’d rather make less profit and have a bigger impact,” Paul says. “I focus more on my employees, on the stability of the community, and on giving back to people.”
This last impulse drove him to create an Open Doors Scholarship at Penn State Behrend. The scholarship gives first preference to students who attend a program known as PaSSS, or Pathway to Success: Summer Start, which helps entering students make the transition to the college starting in the summer before their first year. “I think the American Dream is alive,” Paul says. “For many people, going to college allows them to achieve that dream. With this scholarship, I wanted to help people who are not as fortunate as I am to excel in life.”
Paul committed $50,000 to establish the scholarship, and his parents, Tom and Paula Hoffman, in a show of support for their son’s philanthropy, matched his gift. The University’s 2:1 match for Open Doors Scholarships, which ended last year, then took the full amount to $300,000. “That’s a great investment!” Paul says.
To create this partnership, the Hoffmans worked with Kevin E. Moore, director of development and alumni relations at Penn State Behrend. “Paul has a very rare combination of passion, business acumen, and compassion for others,” Kevin says. “It is highly unusual for someone his age to be so worldly and so generous.”
As he runs his business and pursues his degree simultaneously, Paul finds that classroom learning and real-world practice overlap and reinforce each other. And when he graduates next year, he’ll be carrying on a proud tradition in his family. Both his parents are Penn Staters, and his father is the current chair of the Penn State Behrend Gift Planning Campaign Committee and a member of the Penn State Behrend Council of Fellows’ Board of Directors. Paul is also one of a particularly rare breed: Penn State triplets. His sister, Christine, who is also vice president and head property manager for Hoffman United, is attending Penn State Behrend, and his brother, Thomas, is studying hospitality management at University Park.
Paul has big plans for expanding Hoffman United in the coming years. He says, “We’ve accomplished a lot here in Erie, with more to come, and we’re looking to take that elsewhere, to provide stable jobs and help strengthen communities across the country.” With his entrepreneurial drive, business experience, and Penn State education, he’s got everything he needs to succeed.