Nearly 250 donors, student-athletes, coaches and administrators gathered inside Rome Ballroom in October for the UConn Athletics Annual Endowed Scholarship Dinner. Throughout the evening, which featured a social hour, dinner and speaking program, those in attendance heard about the importance of endowed scholarships on the lives of UConn’s student-athletes and the success of its programs.
“The Endowed Scholarship Dinner is a special night for UConn Athletics,” said Director of Athletics Warde Manuel. “Each year I really look forward to this event because it’s a great opportunity for our student-athletes to come face-to-face with and get to know the individuals who support their education. By endowing a scholarship, our donors are providing our student-athletes with a great education, which is a gift that will benefit them for a lifetime. ”
From Latvia to Husky Nation
For women’s track and field standout Saija Bikanova, it was a long journey to Connecticut. Born and raised in the small Eastern European country of Latvia, she never dreamed of one day running track while receiving an education from one of the premiere universities in the United States.
Since arriving on campus nearly four years ago, Bikanova has learned many valuable lessons that go well beyond her time in the classroom and on the track.
“I’ve learned so much about toughness, determination and dedication,” she said. “UConn has brought out the best of me both on the track and in the classroom. It hasn’t always been easy, but I know everything I’ve learned here has prepared me to be successful once I graduate. I am incredibly grateful for everybody here tonight. You have made this UConn experience possible for me and so many of my fellow student-athletes.”
Empowering coaches to recruit champions
Endowed scholarships have an impact on others besides the student-athletes who receive them. For UConn’s coaches, endowed scholarships allow them to continue attracting talented student-athletes from around the world.
“Recruiting is the lifeblood of any program,” said UConn Women’s Hockey Coach Chris MacKenzie. “As our program continues to grow, it’s important that we have the ability to provide scholarships to bring in the best and brightest student-athletes. I think tonight’s Endowed Scholarship Dinner says a great deal about the wonderful support we receive from our donors here at UConn.”
Spirited alumni give back
While endowed scholarships have a direct effect on UConn’s student-athletes and coaches, the ability to make this type of impact is very rewarding for those who invest in scholarships.
Hailing from the heart of UConn Country, Mike Soltys ’81 and his family have a deep connection to the University of Connecticut. For 25 years, his father Joseph worked as the sports information director, then during his time on campus, Mike had the good fortune to meet his wife Teresa, and in recent years two of their children graduated from UConn while their youngest is a senior who’s looking forward to graduating this spring.
“Because of UConn, I have had a great life and a successful career doing what I love — working in the sports industry,” Soltys said. “By endowing a scholarship in my parents’ honor, I have the opportunity to pay tribute to them as we support hard working and talented students who also dream of working in sports one day. Being here tonight is wonderful because we love having the chance to meet the students supported by these scholarships and to see the excitement on their faces.”
For over 20 years, Mike Melio has been a loyal donor to UConn Athletics. During that time, he has supported numerous initiatives, but for him, there is something special about making a gift to support the education of student-athletes.
“It’s all about education, without it we would be nothing,” Melio said. “We have so many wonderful student-athletes representing UConn. Personally, it’s very fulfilling to support these young people academically. I strongly believe we have student-athletes here at the University of Connecticut who will one day go on to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems.”