HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — A gift that is the first of its kind to a high school in the United States will provide the opportunity for the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts to offer a unique course for its students.
Luther Lowe, a 2001 ASMSA alumnus and director of public policy at Yelp, made a $10,000 gift in bitcoin to the ASMSA Foundation Fund. In 2007, Gov. Mike Beebe appointed Lowe to the ASMSA Board of Visitors. In the final year of his appointment, Lowe served as board chair.
Bitcoin is a global, decentralized cryptocurrency that uses peer-to-peer technology for secure monetary transactions created through the digital exchange of information. Bitcoin is the most popular cryptocurrency.
This is the first bitcoin gift to be accepted by the University of Arkansas Foundation, Inc. The ASMSA Foundation Fund is part of the University of Arkansas Foundation. Two institutions of higher education —the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash., in February and Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Fla., in May — are the only educational institutions to previously announce major gifts in bitcoin.
Lowe's gift will allow ASMSA to create a computer science seminar focusing on bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and collective computing, the first high school course focused entirely on the topics in Arkansas and the United States. Like many of ASMSA's hallmark courses, the class will feature an interdisciplinary approach to the topic. A combination of mathematics, computer science, humanities and economics faculty will collaborate on the course development and delivery. The gift will also support other elements of the school's computer science, digital learning and outreach programs.
ASMSA is one of 16 public residential high schools in the country specializing in the education of academically gifted juniors and seniors. Students from 58 Arkansas counties will attend the school this year. Newsweek and The Daily Beast ranked ASMSA as the top public high school in Arkansas and 13th in the nation in their 2013 rankings of more than 2,000 schools nationwide.
Lowe said the gift will assist his alma mater in continuing to offer unique programs while also providing students the opportunity to be involved in an exciting and growing field.
"Having graduated from the institution in 2001, I can attest to the fact that the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts (ASMSA) offers one of the best STEM programs for high schoolers in the United States," Lowe said. "I'm thrilled to support their continued development of innovative educational programs by endowing the creation of a cryptocurrency course to be offered in Spring of 2015.
"Given the growing importance of bitcoin and the future applications of block chain, ASMSA students will gain incredibly valuable experience and knowledge in the early stages of this emerging field."
Lowe's bitcoin gift is part of a larger matching gift. During ASMSA's commencement ceremony on May 24, Lowe announced an initial $10,000 gift, which he made online while sitting on stage. He challenged parents, alumni and friends of the school to show their appreciation for the opportunities ASMSA offers its students by donating as well. He said he would match up to another $10,000 raised for the school by the end of June. The "20 for 20: Match Challenge" raised $10,666 in addition to Lowe's initial gift. Others interested in supporting ASMSA's class on cryptocurrency can visit http://asmsa.me/cryptocurrencygift.
"ASMSA's community of learning is extremely fortunate to have alumni like Luther who are not only examples of how this experience positions students for leadership roles at the highest levels but are also interested in supporting the next generation of young Arkansans who are gaining invaluable academic and social experiences at ASMSA," said ASMSA Director Corey Alderdice.
Bitcoin launched in 2009 and is managed through a peer-to-peer technology network that doesn't have a central owner. Bitcoins may be bought or sold in U.S. dollars or in other currencies from private exchanges based around the world. Individuals may also exchange bitcoins using encrypted digital wallets that offer each individual a unique digital identification.
Each bitcoin transaction is recorded on a public database called a block chain. Every block in the chain contains a list of transactions and a link to the previous block. The block chain has a record of every transaction since the creation of bitcoin. Recorded transactions only include each person's digital wallet identification, the set of encrypted letters and numbers that allows each person to maintain their anonymity.
In order to accept Lowe's gift, the ASMSA Foundation Fund with assistance from the university foundation established a digital wallet account with BitPay, a bitcoin exchange that allowed the university to accept a payment from Lowe in bitcoin. The digital wallet also allowed the foundation to exchange the bitcoins for cash to be deposited into the foundation's account.
Bitcoin has grown in popularity since its creation. Corporations and websites such as Dish Network, Overstock.com, Expedia, Zappos, Zynga, CheapAir.com and others have begun accepting bitcoin as an acceptable payment for some services.