Inspiring Exploration

Through a generous $3 million commitment from Carl and Gigi Allen, the University has completed the renovation of the first floor of McKillop Library and established the Allen Family Learning Commons, which houses essential student support services and is a vital component of the Salve Compass program. As students explore their strengths and pursue their degrees, the learning commons will be a hub where they can find the resources for academic, career and personal success.

Believing that “every day is an adventure, not a destination,” the Allens are no strangers to the idea of exploration.

Carl, who received an honorary degree in international relations from Salve in 2022, first visited Walker’s Cay, a tiny island known as the “gateway” to the Bahamas, when he was 12 years old. He remembers seeing the strip of land from a fishing trawler; it was the beginning of what would become a self-described “major love affair with Walker’s,” a place he returned to time and again throughout his life.

“I never thought there was anyplace better,” said Allen, who purchased the island in 2018 following the sale of his family’s business, Heritage Bag Company. “I got the same feeling 42 years later; it was an honor, a privilege and a pleasure to buy Walker’s. It came with a real sense of responsibility.”

That responsibility is something that the Allens take very seriously. Determined to breathe new life into the island paradise, which had been devastated by hurricanes, the couple is working with the local government and tradespeople on a number of projects, including a family-centered resort, the revival of Walker’s Cay as a “fishing mecca,” and the Bahamian Maritime Museum.

Dedicated ecologists and conservationists, the Allens founded Allen Exploration in 2016. In partnership with the Bahamian government, the AllenX fleet and crews search for, recover and document period shipwrecks and maritime history. Its current focus is a scientific survey and exploration of the Maravillas, a 17th-century galleon that offers more than sunken treasures; it is a glimpse into history and the international trade routes that crossed Bahamian waters centuries ago.  

“A shipwreck is like an accidental time capsule,” Carl said. “That moment is frozen in time. Nothing is newer than that but there’s a whole bunch of stuff that’s older. You realize that something hasn’t been touched in 400 years, and that it was a human who used it. I get excited about jewelry and coins and all, but I also get excited about the basic things we find – tobacco pipes, little pieces of pottery from teacups, combs, spoons, knives.”  

Whether it is silver and gold coins, opulent emerald pendants or the more mundane treasures that illustrate life in the 1600s, the artifacts painstakingly recovered by AllenX are on display at the Bahamian Maritime Museum in Freeport, conceived and built by the Allens to showcase not only the many treasures recovered but also the fascinating history of the Bahamas and its people.

“It’s not just about showcasing what we’ve found, it’s about preservation,” Gigi said. “Our mission is to recover and preserve these treasures so that they are not lost forever.”

The Allens’ philanthropic efforts are vast; they have generously contributed their expertise and resources to further efforts in education, ecology, defense and health research. Recognizing that education empowers, they funded and organized the Bahamian Teachers Foundation, donating more than 1,000 electronic tablets to schoolchildren to ensure they have the tools needed for success. Carl has also served as a board member for Honor Courage Commitment, honorary chairman for both the ALS and Arthritis foundations, and as a sponsor for Envision, an organization devoted to the blind and partially sighted. In addition, the couple launched the Grand Cay Hurricane Dorian Relief Fund in 2019 and deployed the AllenX fleet to deliver food, water and supplies to the Bahamian islands destroyed by the massive storm. 

Both Carl and Gigi credit their parents for instilling the impulse to serve. 

“My mom [trustee Kathleen Walgreen] has a history of helping people,” Carl said. “One of my earliest memories, I think I was about 6, is of a big Christmas event she had for homeless families. I was an elf, which is probably why I remember it, and I look at that history and know that I wouldn’t be as philanthropy-driven as I am if it weren’t for my mom and stepdad.” 

The Allens believe that the Salve Compass will provide students with immeasurable opportunities to begin their own exploration of the world.

“I think it invigorates them and puts them in touch,” Gigi said. “It’s not theory, they’re doing it, involved in it, living it. It gives a whole other dimension to their studies as visual and kinesthetic learners and you can’t beat that, it’s wonderful. It gets students out of the classroom, they’re moving, they’re doing things; I think it’s very valuable.

“There’s a whole exciting world out there,” she continued, “so go find it. There are so many ways to connect with people. Students need to look inside themselves and figure out ‘how can I make a difference in this world, how can I do what I love, how can I combine these things?’ They’ve got the energy, the enthusiasm, and they’ve learned things at Salve; now go out and discover.”

“And always climb,” Carl added. “If you find that mountaintop, go find another one, keep on moving.”