It’s not often when principal foundations one holds dear align to benefit countless others. Heather and BJ Schaknowski share a passion and deep gratitude for the Armed Forces, the University of Georgia, and the business education they received at the Terry College of Business — a combined admiration that has motivated the couple to open pathways for others to experience.
Heather (BBA ’99) and BJ (EMBA ’04) have created a $1 million endowment, the Schaknowski Military Appreciation Scholarship Fund, to provide scholarship support into perpetuity for student veterans enrolled in the Terry College.
“Growing up in Atlanta, I had always wanted to attend the University of Georgia. I got into the business school and absolutely loved my time there,” Heather said from the Denver home she shares with BJ and their two children, Bella and AJ. “My marketing degree from UGA was instrumental to my success, and my time at Terry was a formative moment in my life personally and professionally. Our family has always felt tightly connected to UGA, and it’s something the four of us love supporting.”
“We have always had a strong belief in the importance of giving back to the organizations and communities that helped shape our own success, and we started to think about the things that mattered the most to us,” BJ said. “For me, that’s joining the Marine Corps, going to Georgia for business school, marrying Heather, and building a family together. These are the biggest moments in my life. This (scholarship) takes the things that have had the most meaningful impact on me and packages them together beautifully.”
The Schaknowskis gift aligns with Terry College Dean Ben Ayers’ commitment to serve veterans pursuing a business education at the graduate and undergraduate levels.
“BJ and Heather’s generosity opens the door for more veterans to have the opportunity to develop their career skills after they leave active duty,” said Ayers. “This scholarship helps our veterans with financial needs continue their studies and work toward their chosen professional field.”
Since 2020, BJ has served as the CEO of symplr, a leading provider of healthcare operations software and services. With more than 20 years working in leadership roles across the software industry, BJ’s career includes roles directing sales, strategy, services, and marketing on a global scale. He was an enlisted infantry rifleman in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves for eight years, an invaluable experience he drew on during his MBA program at Terry.
“The understanding of the value of diverse teams delivering outcomes, that is the military through and through,” he said. “It anchored me in the mission and people framework I’ve used throughout my career, and a lot of that came from organized sports and the Marine Corps and was reinforced through my education at Terry.”
Since graduating from UGA as a member of Delta Sigma Pi, Heather has held multiple senior roles in global software marketing. “From a young age, I was always drawn to sales and marketing. Business was something I always enjoyed, and going to Terry turned that passion into a skillset. I’m so happy to help pay that forward to the next generation of Terry students.”
The couple is devoted to public service and bringing their expertise to assist nonprofits in fulfilling their missions. Heather serves on the Women’s Guild Executive Board of A Precious Child, a group that helps children and their families navigate community services in the Denver area. She also created Dawson Cares, which brings parents and children together at their son’s school to volunteer at nonprofits throughout the year. BJ is on the national board of Susan G. Komen, which provides breast cancer patients with resources, support, and advocacy while funding research into breast cancer treatment and causes. Now, that service comes to the Terry College, where the promise of their perpetual scholarship will create meaningful outcomes.
“Being able to combine military experience with a world-class business acumen is game-changing,” Heather said. “CEOs are looking for those amazing qualities that veterans have, and Terry is unique in its ability to help veterans build on those skills in the classroom and beyond.”
“We see this as a launch point for us, the start of our journey with UGA,” BJ said. “Joining the Pinnacle Society and the 1785 Society through our first major gift to Terry is a natural starting point — it aligns with so many things we care about.”