UConn Nation Launches ‘Drive for 5K’ Initiative

Noel Thomas and the Oleksiws
Noel Thomas flanked by Jim (left) and Marylee Oleksiw (right).

UConn’s prowess in the sporting world is well known. UConn Nation has come to expect—and receive—national championships in exchange for their loyalty and passion.

What sometimes gets lost in that effort, however, is that student-athletes are no different than “regular” students. The need for scholarship support to keep attracting these top students to UConn has never been higher.

As the cost of tuition continues to rise, private support is more essential than ever for the success of our 24 varsity sports and more than 700 student-athletes. And what also sometimes gets forgotten is that UConn student-athletes continue to excel: more than 50 percent earned a grade point average of 3.0 or higher.

In the 2014-15 academic year, $12 million was paid by the Athletic Department in tuition costs, as 216 athletes received partial scholarships and 196 received full scholarships. That cost will be going up this year.

UConn’s championship success has been achieved in large part due to the continued generosity of donors, season ticket holders, alumni and friends who annually support UConn Athletics.

This year a new fundraising initiative, the “Drive for 5K,” is being launched with the goal of increasing the number of contributors from 4,400 to 5,000.

[Listen to our radio spot on the Drive for 5K, featuring UConn Athletic Director Warde Manuel]

The “Drive for 5K” comes at the same time the UConn Foundation is in the midst of its Transform Lives fundraising initiative that aims to double the amount of financial support—including merit and need-based scholarships—that the Foundation raises for the benefit of the UConn student body.

There are tangible benefits to making a donation to UConn Athletics. A gift enrolls you in The UConn Club and provides priority seating and parking privileges at games, invitations to special events, tax benefits and other exclusive benefits associated with membership.

Numbers are great—but to put a face on one of the scholarship recipients, meet Noel Thomas, a junior wide receiver from Norwalk, Conn., who caught 26 passes, gained 305 yards and caught a team-high four touchdowns during the 2014 season.

Noel, a junior majoring in communications who says it’s his dream “to be a coach someday,” is this year’s recipient of the Oleksiw Family Football Scholarship.

“My family has one less thing to worry about” thanks to the scholarship, said Noel. “I have a lot of self-motivation to keep my grades up. Plus we have a good team of academic advisors to help us out.”

Time management, said Noel, is a challenge for student-athletes, especially during the time of year when the sport the athlete is playing is in season. “Studying—and playing—is a full-time commitment,” he said. “But it’s a commitment that I am more than willing to make.”

Noel’s scholarship donors, the Oleksiws, have a long history of contribution and service to the UConn Club and the UConn Division of Athletics.

Jim ’75 (ENG) and Marylee Oleksiw said they are thrilled to help pay for Noel’s education. “He and his teammates,” said Marylee, “are such an impressive group of young men. We are so happy to be able to help him, on and off the field.”

“We just wanted to do what we could to support the (football) program,” said Jim Oleksiw.

A native of Manchester, Conn., Jim was an engineering major at UConn and served as a resident assistant in Buckley Hall. Marylee is from a small town in Massachusetts and grew up watching sports as a cheerleader at her high school. Both of their children are also UConn graduates.

The Oleksiws are faithful followers of the Huskies both at home and on the road. They have attended all four of the men’s basketball team’s appearances in the Final Four and all five of UConn’s bowl games in football. They have also attended numerous women’s Final Fours and followed the Huskies to locations such as Hawaii and the Virgin Islands.

“Supporting UConn athletics is a family activity for us,” said Marylee. “When our kids were young coming to UConn sporting events was a big part of our lives.”

“And it still is,” added Jim.

If you have questions about the “Drive for 5K” or any other fundraising question, please call the UConn Athletic Development Office at (860) 486-3863 or email at UConnClub@foundation.uconn.edu.

Go Huskies!