Franklin René Ruano Galdamez said he never thought of leaving El Salvador until members of Mara Salvatrucha, the gang known as MS-13, kidnapped him, beat him, and threatened to kill him.
His anti-gang work with the Arena political party had made him a target. “My mom told me if I wanted to live, I would have to come to the U.S.,” he said. Party leaders told him the same.
Galdamez arrived in the United States in December 2017, with a plan to apply for asylum. After crossing the border from Mexico, he said, he was immediately apprehended by Border Patrol agents and served with a deportation order.
As Galdamez faced the reality of mounting a case for asylum, he moved to Connecticut, where he would be closer to family.
Here, he turned to the Asylum and Human Rights Clinic at UConn Law, which has handled more than 125 cases in a 15-year period. Typically, 20 law students participate in the intensive Asylum and Human Rights Clinic program each year. Each student who participates handles every aspect involved in representation.
Second-year law students Alexandria Madjeric and Adam Kuegler took on Galdamez’ case under the supervision of Jon Bauer, clinical professor of law and Richard D. Tulisano ’69 Scholar in Human Rights, and Valeria Gomez, the clinic’s teaching fellow.
In many cases, spouses and children were also beneficiaries of the asylum grant, so the total number of refugees who have been able to secure legal status in the United States as a result of the Clinic’s work is well into the hundreds.
The students met with Galdamez weekly, interviewed witnesses and experts and wrote briefs on his behalf. Their work culminated in a hearing in Hartford Immigration Court, where the students represented Galdamez.
It was the end of a process that could either spell an official end or a new beginning for Galdamez.
The students said they discussed the case every day they were working on it, often texting each other with ideas. Both said the biggest challenge for them was to remain professional and avoid getting emotionally involved.
“We so badly wanted to be able to promise a result and that’s just not something you ever can do,” Kuegler said. “We felt we had a strong case, but obviously a judge can feel differently, so you just never know.”
Galdamez said he felt the students understood the gravity of his situation. Bauer and Gomez were proud of their work.
“At every step of the case, Adam and Alex represented Franklin with passion and compassion,” Gomez said. “They worked enthusiastically, tirelessly, and meticulously, and were so thorough in their work that even opposing counsel commended them on their case preparation and their performance during Franklin’s asylum hearing.”
In January 2019, the immigration court granted Galdamez asylum status, which allows him to live, work and study in the United States legally.
“There is a piece of me that stayed in El Salvador with my friends and family,” he said. “Here, I feel safe, and so I am happy even though there are many things I miss.”
Now 28 years old and living in Hartford, Galdamez recently started working a second job. He said he is grateful for the opportunities the United States offers and is ready to start the next chapter in his life.
In April, he returned to UConn Law to speak on a panel of refugees and stateless people. Seeing Galdamez on the panel, felt like closing the circle of her work with him, Madjeric.
“Seeing him there was really emotional in a good way,” she said. “It really does feel like we were able to help him get a new life.”
A summer internship is a great way to explore a career, network, and build a professional skillset – and getting a paid internship is even better.
The good news is that the number of paid internships is on the rise in many fields, and UConn’s Center for Career Development can help you find one.
Not only are paid internships becoming more commonplace, but paid interns are more likely to land a job and a higher starting salary than unpaid interns when they graduate. A recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that 66.4 percent of graduates who were paid interns received at least one job offer compared to just 43.7 percent of unpaid interns. And graduates with paid internship experience start out making $51,930 per year compared to $35,721 for those with unpaid internship experience.
So how do you find a paid internship? UConn’s Center for Career Development counselors have the following tips:
1. Network before you need it
Before you start your search, network with alumni in the field so you know what you’re walking into. You can find alums to talk to for free through the Husky Mentor Network on the Career Center’s website. Students can use the website to schedule a time to talk with someone and ask them about what to expect from an internship in their field. This is the perfect opportunity to find out whether internships in your chosen field are generally paid or unpaid.
2. Start looking now
The best time to line up internships is in the fall before the following summer because that’s when many industries start recruiting. “They recruit in the fall for the following summer, which always feels really early to students and parents. But if you miss that fall window, you miss a lot of the larger, more established opportunities,” said Ana Clara Blesso, associate director of career coaching and experiential learning. This is particularly true of larger organizations, such as Cigna, that have a more formalized intern program.
3. Where to look
Schedule an appointment at the UConn Career Center to meet with a career coach. They can help you pinpoint your field of interest, direct you to websites like Husky Career Link that list thousands of internships, and guide you through the application process.
4. Cast a wide net
Make connections with faculty who have worked in your field and with alums who are currently in the field you’d like to enter. Check with your academic department and work with your academic advisor to help find an internship. Parents should check their own networks as well. Do their colleagues or customers have internships? How about their neighbors or friends?
6. Don’t accept the first internship you’re offered
It’s easy to get excited and just accept the first internship offered to you, even if it’s unpaid. But it’s better to graciously ask the company for a day or two to consider the offer and then talk to a UConn career counselor. The counselors can assess the offer and possibly coach you to negotiate for a better deal—or steer you toward a comparable paid position elsewhere.
7. Even if you get an unpaid internship, you can still ask for compensation
Students usually don’t think of asking for compensation beyond an hourly wage. But you can ask—politely—about whether they can be reimbursed for small expenses, such as parking, transportation, or other job-related expenses.
8. Get some financial assistance
Apply to UConn’s new Opportunity Fund, which provides financial support for professional opportunities such as internships. The fund, which assisted 11 students this past summer, is designed for students who want to do an unpaid or minimally paid internship but simply can’t afford it.
9. Consider a co-op
If you want to go a step further than an internship, consider doing a co-op. A co-op is essentially taking a pause from academic work for a semester to work full time for the purpose of gaining real work experience. Co-ops are always paid experiences. Find more information about UConn’s Co-op Program here.
My company is looking for interns. How can I recruit UConn students?
Email the UConn Center for Career Development at firstname.lastname@example.org and go to the employer page for information on UConn’s internship program. Or call Ashley Browning, assistant director of corporate partner relations, directly at the Career Center at 860-486-3013.
Help continue career programs and resources like the Opportunity Fund at UConn with a gift to the Center for Career Development.
From Las Vegas to Storrs, the UConn Foundation’s new president has a passion for changing young people’s lives.
The first thing you notice about Scott Roberts, the UConn Foundation’s new president and CEO, is how tall he is. At 6-foot-7, he jokes that ceiling fans are not his friend. And it’s not too hard to imagine him playing professional basketball, which he did in Sweden and Germany for two years after college.
But then you notice how upbeat he is and how passionate he is about helping young people. Colleagues describe him as easy going, whip smart, and incredibly thoughtful—key qualities for a professional fundraiser.
He first entered the world of fundraising as a district executive for the Boy Scouts of America. He loved the job and seeing how he could positively impact others. Two years later, a volunteer urged him to apply for a job as director of major gifts at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, and he found his real passion.
“That’s when I found my true calling, my passion for education fundraising and the impact you can have to change lives,” he said. “I was helping 3,000 kids at the Boy Scouts, and now I was at a university helping 7,000 kids.”
From there, he became vice president for philanthropy and alumni engagement at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV), which he led to an all-time annual fundraising record of $93 million in fiscal year 2017.
Roberts grew up in the small town of Carthage, Mo., where his mother and stepfather ran a garden shop and nursery. He holds an associate’s degree from Missouri State University–West Plains, a bachelor’s from the College of the Ozarks, and a master’s in public administration from UNLV.
His wife, Barb, is director of undergraduate recruitment at UNLV. Barb and Scott have two daughters, Marley, 13, and Audrey, 11.
We talked with Roberts recently about his impressions of UConn and his goals for the Foundation.
You grew up in Missouri. What was that like?
I would say it’s a lot like Connecticut. I grew up kind of near the Ozarks in Missouri and driving around here, from even Manchester to Storrs, it looks exactly the same: lots of big trees, lots of green, all four seasons—and the winters are not fun there either. I think you’d be surprised how similar it is.
Tell me about the College of the Ozarks. Its nickname is ‘Hard Work U,” right?
The beauty of College of the Ozarks is that it is one of two or three colleges in the nation where students graduate debt-free. You don’t pay any tuition. In exchange for that, you must work on campus your entire time there. You’re essentially working 20 hours a week during the school year to pay for tuition. Then you work 40 hours a week in the summer and during holidays. The college is mostly student-run. The students do the landscaping and run the facility plant and the cafeteria. You have employees who are managing, but it’s really students who are doing the work. It’s a unique way of running a college campus.
How did you meet your wife?
She’s gonna kill me for telling this story. We met in college. I was there playing basketball. We actually grew up fairly close, but went to different high schools, so we never met one another. My father got the local newspaper, and one day it had a press release in it that said she had signed a letter of intent to play volleyball at the same college where I was—Missouri State. My dad cut out this article, wrote on it ‘you should meet her,’ and mailed it to me. We just had our 19th wedding anniversary this June.
Did you receive a college scholarship yourself?
My wife and I were both beneficiaries of scholarships at Missouri State. My wife is a first-generation college student, and my mother never went to college. I value how I can help provide a step for students who don’t know or don’t get that encouragement at home. My wife and I both think that it has changed our lives, having the opportunity to get an education. I want to be able to help provide that for others. I think that’s why people get into this line of work. They understand the power of education, and this is our way of trying to provide opportunities.
You have a lot of experience in alumni relations and fundraising, first at Pittsburg State University and most recently at UNLV. What was your biggest accomplishment?
I take a lot of pride in trying to build a team that works well together and finding the resources they need to be successful. In guiding the ship at UNLV, one of the things I felt proud about is that for two years in a row, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) recognized the UNLV team for overall improvement and overall performance. We got both those categories two years in a row. That’s a testament to the team and the work they did.
What’s the biggest hurdle currently facing the UConn Foundation?
From a fundraising or alumni perspective, I think the biggest hurdle is identifying a way to have the long-term growth that we need to elevate our engagement and fundraising activities. Budgets are always tight, but we have to figure out a way to continue to grow – and do it in a healthy way. I’ll work with the leadership team, the board chair, and the University president to think through that. There are certainly some significant growth opportunities. We just have to figure out a way to make it all fiscally feasible.
UConn is a large university with many schools and colleges. Many alums seem to identify with those more than UConn as a whole. How do you build loyalty and get alums to donate at a school like UConn?
I think it’s all relative based on the type of institution. When you look at private institutions, they’ve been doing this a lot longer than any public university. When they opened their doors, they knew they were going to have to fundraise to survive. Even though UConn is 140 years old, I would argue that the fundraising efforts didn’t really kick into high gear until somewhat recently, the last 10 years perhaps. We’re still fairly young in our maturation of fundraising, and I think the potential is certainly there.
But I would also argue that we’re not in a bad place. I mean we have 22,000 donors a year. That’s still a lot of donors. There’s certainly room to grow, but there’s a lot of folks that really are passionate about this place.
What is your long-term goal for the UConn Foundation?
The easy answer is we have to elevate our fundraising and engagement activities and production. That’s the ultimate goal of any foundation: to do more and constantly strive to be better and more strategic.
In the short term, I think it’s critical that we don’t lose momentum. My predecessor here, Josh Newton, did a great job of setting things up the right way and getting it structured for success. It’s going to be critical to not miss a beat, but to just continue to build off that momentum. I also think we have an incredible opportunity with the new University president, Tom Katsouleas, and me coming in at the same time, ready to invigorate new relationships and continue that momentum.
What was your biggest epiphany—a life-defining change that shaped you into the person you are today.
One of things that has made a real impact on my life is forming my own personal board of advisors. That’s kind of an official way of saying that you have an inner circle that you really trust.
You don’t have to ask someone to be on it, you just know who’s on it. It’s a diverse group of friends, colleagues, and mentors. I think those three complement one another and help guide you when you are struggling with situations or decisions, personal or professional. These are the people you can go to, who know that it’s confidential, and who you can trust. They can give you another perspective on things going on in your life or career.
What is your life philosophy? How did you develop that philosophy?
My life philosophy is to always remain positive, enthusiastic, and compassionate. Those are the three things that I always try to live by. I have a really hard time ever seeing a glass half empty. My eyes just don’t work that way. I choose to always see things as opportunities and believe that things are a lot better than what they could be. It’s just the way I’ve always been.
A team of law students, social workers, interpreters, and researchers from UConn are providing assistance to asylum-seekers at immigration detention centers in Pennsylvania.
Fear of gangs and drug cartels. Of their home governments. Of their own family members.
Fear of persecution. Of the police. Of being killed.
Fear of deportation, or that someone they care about will be deported.
Fear that no matter where they went in their home country, they would find no safe haven.
Demonstrating a “credible fear” of returning home is the first hurdle that an individual must overcome when seeking asylum in the United States, and the formal demonstration of that credible fear comes in the form of an interview before a federal asylum officer that requires explicit discussion of the traumatic experiences that led them to flee.
Preparing detainees for this all-important credible fear interview was only part of the work undertaken by the faculty, students and alumni who participated in this year’s Immigration Detention Service Project – a partnership between UConn’s School of Law Asylum and Human Rights Clinic and UConn’s School of Social Work that brings teams of attorneys and law students, interpreters, and experts on social work, mental health and trauma inside immigration detention centers for one week a year to assist detainees by preparing and arguing their claims for asylum before federal immigration authorities, and conducting psychological evaluations for use in those legal proceedings.
Since its founding in 2002, the Asylum and Human Rights Clinic has handled over 120 asylum cases to completion.
In many instances, spouses and children were also beneficiaries of the asylum grant, so the total number of refugees who have been able to secure legal status in the United States as a result of the Clinic’s work is well into the hundreds.
Twenty-two UConn-affiliated volunteer participants – including five legal teams, each comprised of two law students and a supervising attorney; a clinical social work team; a research social work team; and three undergraduate and alumni interpreters – embarked on this year’s trip, which took place from June 2 to June 7 and was conducted in partnership with ALDEA, a nonprofit legal and service organization that assists immigrant communities. The participants in this year’s trip were UConn School of Law students Emma Hale, Danielle Schmalz, Alexandra Santos, Zachary Bellis, Hannah Kang, Shelby Downes, Jenny Labbadia, Tennyson Benedict, Kyle Smith, and Kimberly Wilson; Patricia Jimenez ’21 (CLAS), who served as an interpreter; School of Law faculty members Jon Bauer and Valeria Gomez; Nina Rovinelli Heller, Dean of the School of Social Work; School of Social Work faculty members S. Megan Berthold, Kathryn Libal, and Scott Harding; School of Law alumni and practicing attorneys Meghann LaFountain, Jennifer O’Neill, and Ben Haldeman; Nicole Sanclemente, a Class of 2019 graduate who served as interpreter; and Chester Fernandez, a public defender in New Britain who served as an interpreter and attorney.
Unlike previous years where the trip has focused solely on assisting individual adult detainees being held at the York County Prison in York, Pennsylvania, this year UConn teams also worked with families being held in detention at the Berks County Family Residential Center in Leesport, Pennsylvania.
Law and Social Work: A Unique Model
While other colleges and universities have sponsored similar programs where faculty and law students assist detainees in immigration proceedings, UConn’s program is unique in that it also integrates social workers with mental health and trauma expertise in its work.
“The School of Social Work shares with the Law School dual missions of preparing students for professional practice and adding to our respective knowledge bases,” said Nina Rovinelli Heller, the dean of the School of Social Work and a clinical social worker who participated in the trip for the first time this year. “As our two schools have worked together on this detention project, we are increasingly aware of points of convergence in social justice practice. The combination of law and social work can yield important initiatives on behalf of many oppressed and disadvantaged groups.”
Jon Bauer is a clinical professor of law and director of the UConn School of Law’s Asylum and Human Rights Clinic. A lead co-organizer of the annual trip, Bauer said that the experience of having mental health professionals working side-by side with legal teams is tremendously valuable from both a client-service perspective but also for the well-being of the detainees themselves.
“There was a spillover therapeutic value for the clients, although it was not therapy,” he said. “And, even in cases where no psychological evaluation was conducted, it was a great resource for the lawyers and law students to be able to sound out issues with the social workers about how to approach some difficult issues. It was very valuable to get input on what to do, for example, with a client who seemed depressed and inclined to give up, even though they might have a strong claim for relief.”
In addition to conducting mental health evaluations and supporting the practice work of the legal teams, UConn’s social work contingent also conducted trainings prior to the trip to help prepare the volunteer participants for the personal and emotional toll that the experiences might have on them, and later made themselves available to some of the legal team members and volunteer interpreters who found themselves struggling with the weight of the stories they encountered while assisting clients in detention.
“The support in terms of helping people in the legal group to process their emotions and their stress – having the social work contingent was tremendously valuable,” said Bauer.
The social work clinicians also made themselves available as expert witnesses supporting the detained clients, offering to provide testimony by telephone if necessary at proceedings that were scheduled to continue well after the week-long trip had concluded.
“What an incredible opportunity to use your professional training and your specialized skill set for good in this realm, and for people who rarely have the opportunity to have a legal representative or legal team member or to meet with a mental health professional to have the opportunity to do so,” said S. Megan Berthold, an associate professor in UConn’s School of Social Work who was one of the original co-organizers of the inaugural Immigration Detention Service Project trip and has participated in the project every year. “For some, it’d be the very first time in their life that they’ve ever met with a lawyer, a law student, or a mental health professional.”
The Challenges of Working with Detained Children
One of just three family detention facilities in the country, and with the capacity to hold 96 detainees, about 25 refugees seeking asylum were at Berks while the UConn teams worked in the facility, which has been the subject of some controversy, with local advocacy groups and former detainees calling for its closure.
Unlike the highly publicized masses of refugees at the U.S.’s southern border, most of the Berks residents entered the country through the northern border, with asylum seekers from countries including Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela, India, and Romania first traveling to Canada before crossing the border and seeking asylum protections in the United States.
“Berks has the veneer of being a kid-friendly place, but it has a strange, Twilight-Zone sort of vibe to it,” said Bauer. “It’s like it’s trying very hard to be kid-friendly, but it’s in essence a detention center.”
Bauer said that the teams encountered difficulties at Berks right away, when facility administrators suddenly changed rules about how many people could be physically in the room with a detainee at any time, which meant that, if an interpreter was needed to communicate with the family, a member of the legal team would have to sit out the meeting due to this unexpected limitation.
“It’s really hard to be both the lawyer and the interpreter,” said Berthold, “so the interpreters really were pivotal. It takes specialized skills and personal abilities to be able to interpret in these sorts of cases.”
The staff at Berks also would not tell the legal teams when hearings were scheduled to occur, instead saying that information had to come from the asylum office in New Jersey, which led to the legal staff missing a few hearings and then attending others on the fly when meetings meant to prepare detainees for credible fear interviews suddenly turned into actual hearings before federal asylum officers.
In total, one of the UConn teams at Berks prepared seven families for their credible fear interviews while working at the facility, and then actually represented three of the families before an asylum officer at their credible fear interview proceedings.
A second UConn team worked intensively with a family that was already under a deportation order and prepared a motion to reopen their removal proceedings. That motion resulted in an initial stay of the deportation order; the motion was later granted, and the family was released from detention pending additional proceedings as they pursue their claim for asylum.
The detained parents being held at Berks at the time ranged in age from 20 to 40; the youngest child the UConn teams saw in detention was two years old, while the oldest was 16.
“During the credible fear interviews the legal team was sitting in a room with the family, and we were allowed to intervene occasionally and to make a closing argument,” said Bauer. “But usually the kids were there at the credible fear interviews, which was difficult because the kids have to listen to a parent talking about their persecution. The kids could be excused, but there’s kind of a presumption that, unless special steps were taken to excuse the kids, they were going to be there.”
As a mental health professional, Berthold has worked extensively with refugees, immigrants, survivors of torture and asylum seekers, but working with children in detention presented particular challenges, especially when children could be forced to either listen to their parents testify about their credible fears of returning to their home country or to actually testify themselves.
“It can be very damaging to the child, who looks to their parent for safety and security, and for protection – emotional, physical protection – to be confronted with some of this reality,” said Berthold. “Wow, my parent has these big limitations and there really is a danger. Our lives were in danger. Because that’s what you have to prove in a credible fear interview. You fear that your life would be in danger if you were to go back, and that can be just terrifying, especially when the future is so unknown.”
One teenager, Bauer said, was so terrified of disclosing any information about his own experiences that he asked his father not to talk about it either; he feared that the people who had threatened him in his home country would take revenge if the family was sent back. Children will often feel a sense of responsibility, Berthold said, if they are forced to testify and the outcome is then unfavorable for the family.
“A child may not understand all the proceedings and may feel very conflicted and uncertain,” Berthold said. “Are they going to cause a big problem? Are they going to be the reason their family gets sent back? Of course, it depends on the age and the developmental level of the child, and what they can understand, but it puts children in really bad situations.”
Six of the eight families the UConn teams worked with at Berks are now out of detention while the full proceedings of their pending asylum cases proceed.
“They’re not done yet, but they’re out of detention, which must be a huge relief, but they also are now able to have their cases actually examined on the merits and to maybe have that chance to get asylum and safety here,” said Berthold. “So, I find that to be, I think for the group, just enormously meaningful, knowing that our teams really contributed to that – the legal teams, the social work teams – but also, more importantly, knowing how meaningful that is for the people themselves, what a change in their life circumstances that provides them.”
“Seven Angels” at York
“We had one client in particular who was very grateful for the work that we were doing and very poetically expressive of his gratitude,” said Valeria Gomez, the William R. Davis Clinical Teaching Fellow in UConn’s Asylum and Human Rights Clinic who led one of the UConn legal teams that worked primarily at York County Prison this year.
“He had a hearing coming up within the next week, so we were very time constrained for him,” Gomez said of the poetic detainee. “He said, ‘I was praying for God to send me one person, just one person to sort of kind of guide me, tell me what I had to say, because I had no idea, and then he sent me seven angels.’”
The client was granted asylum the very next week.
Surrounded by fences topped with razor wire, York looks from the outside like a typical state or county prison and can hold more than 2,000 offenders. But it also houses federal immigration detainees in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“Many of us found our clients to be very resilient and inspiring, even in the context of enormously challenging life circumstances,” said Heller. “They truly gave a ‘face’ to the human realities of seeking asylum.”
While teams at Berks focused mainly on the credible fear interview process, many of their clients at York were awaiting full asylum hearings while still in detention. Gomez and the legal teams worked closely with School of Social Work Associate Professors Kathryn Libal, director of UConn’s Human Rights Institute, and Scott Harding, who focused on conducting research and preparing reports on conditions in the detainees’ home countries that would support their asylum claims.
“What we were doing was trying to prepare the person who was detained for what that hearing might look like, while also trying to develop a declaration and trying to put together evidence packets,” said Gomez. “[The social work team] did a fantastic job of accumulating country conditions research that essentially gave credence to the basis of their stories.”
While many of the detainees they worked with had asked to meet with counselors or therapists, officials at York had not followed up with these requests. Berthold and Heller conducted mental health evaluations that could be used to support the detainees’ claims in their asylum proceedings but also provided an outlet for refugees to talk about their experiences in ways they had not previously been afforded.
“The two clients we worked with both told us both that they really appreciated the opportunity to tell their story, because it felt like they were relieving some of the pressure that they had to keep inside by just trying to keep the story and not having anyone to share it with,” Gomez said. “As legal professionals, and as law students, we were concerned because we’re providing legal services – we’re not trained to offer therapy or mental health counseling – but it was just a reflection of how much of need for that there is in this system.”
While the York teams didn’t experience the same administrative difficulties as the Berks teams – in fact, Gomez said, the correction officers at York were generally pleasant and interested in the work the volunteers were doing – the teams struggled with the limited amount of time they had to meet with clients to prepare the necessary documents to make their legal claims.
Gomez said that the law student volunteers who had worked through the Asylum and Human Rights Clinic – where they take a pro bono case and work deliberately with one client on their immigration claim throughout the semester – were able to contrast that experience with the rapid-fire, on-the-spot, and limited resource experience of working in a detention facility.
“The term that we kept throwing around was ‘crisis lawyering,’” said Gomez. “One student found it very gratifying and a capstone to the clinic experience, because what she got to learn through the slow deliberate process she got to apply in a very different environment, which is probably more akin to working in under-resourced, over-worked, nonprofit-organization-type of public interest work.”
When asked what their advice would be to anyone considering participating in a future Immigration Detention Service Project trip, Bauer, Berthold and Gomez all responded with a very emphatic, “Do it!”
“‘Do it’ sounds like sort of a joke answer, but it really isn’t,” said Gomez. “We’re unique in that we bring the social work contingent and we bring undergrad interpreters who we train. So, our system is pretty great…but, the collaboration that we have with social workers just elevates the quality of work that we can do.”
“There’s really keen dedication and expertise that’s been built through partnership with the law school’s Asylum and Human Rights Clinic,” Berthold said. “We’ve been building capacity as a project, but there’s just such an enormous need that we want to continue to build capacity.”
The Filomeno Family Accounting Scholarship helps UConn business students prepare for success.
When Joseph Filomeno ’51 (BUS) first came to UConn, it was because his mother was intent upon him pursuing higher education.
“He was the son of a fruit vendor,” says Joseph’s son, Tom Filomeno ’78 (BUS), who followed in his father’s footsteps to UConn. “His parents came straight from Italy, and UConn was an affordable alternative at the time for a family like that.”
Joseph Filomeno became the first in his family to graduate from college and went on to found an accounting firm in 1967, Filomeno & Co. of West Hartford.
“My dad really appreciated his UConn roots and connections,” says Tom. “He was a humble man, and he knew UConn helped him achieve the success he earned. He wanted to help others receive the same great start he got there.”
Joseph’s inclination to help others translated into years of mentoring at his firm; the establishment of a Farmington-West Hartford chapter of UNICO, an Italian-American service organization; and the creation of the Filomeno Family Accounting Scholarship at UConn.
Today, the UNICO chapter holds a summer golf tournament to honor Joseph’s contributions and donates half of the proceeds to the scholarship. This year’s tournament netted $7,000 for the fund.
“There was a great feeling of community and charity at the tournament. Dad would be touched, for sure,” says Tom, who meets yearly with the scholarship recipients and serves on the Accounting Advisory Council at UConn.
was generated for scholarships from the 2019 tournament.
“My brothers, Dan and Mike, and I are really excited to see the fund grow and build upon what our father started,” he says. “The kids are full of energy, and they all have exciting careers ahead of them. They’re ready to pursue their dreams, and you know coming from UConn that they’re going to be well-prepared for it.”
Katherine Kolc ’19 (BUS), who received the Filomeno Scholarship in her junior year at UConn, wrote to Tom and his brothers about the impact of their support. “I am a student who finances 50 percent of my education myself. The Filomeno Scholarship enabled me to save money to enroll in a summer course so I could obtain the credits needed to sit for the CPA exam in four years.”
The family’s continued support of the fund Joseph created has cemented his legacy of commitment to UConn.
“UConn is top quality academics-wise,” says Tom. “This scholarship allows students to avoid a huge debt-load and gives them opportunities to do things in a better way. Now, they can then use their skills to be productive in society right away. Dad would love that.”
Ross Mayer ’70 (CLAS) bases new commitment to UConn on his passion for overall health and wellness.
Ross Mayer ’70 (CLAS) came to UConn with a larger goal than just preparing for a career. He viewed college as an opportunity to find out who he was as a person and to build the skills needed to be of service to others.
“My parents taught me how to care about other people,” he says, noting that they also set the example of a strong work ethic during his upbringing in a modest section of Queens, New York.
As a student at UConn, Mayer worked to pay for his tuition, but he also managed to get the most out of the full college experience. “My work ethic came from watching my Dad work three jobs and giving back as a teacher and coach,” he says. “My mother gave back by being a good mother and helping people in need, such as making books for the blind up until her 70s.”
It’s no surprise, then, that Mayer has chosen to give back to the University in ways that help others have the same opportunities for growth he had. His philanthropy is driven by his personal passions, and his affection for UConn is evident. For more than a decade, he has funded the Ross Mayer Scholarship in Economics for students who wish to follow the same academic path that led him to a highly successful career in the financial sector.
“I make sure to tell them that their time at UConn is a chance to develop into someone who uses their intelligence to help other people.”
This year, Mayer, who resides in Sharon, Massachusetts, has channeled another of his passions— personal health and wellness—into a new philanthropic commitment that will benefit thousands of students across the University on a daily basis.
Heather McDonald, assistant vice president for development at the UConn Foundation, who has built a strong relationship with Mayer over the past 11 years, suggested that he visit UConn’s brand-new Student Recreation Center, which will open in September 2019. Replacing an outdated facility previously located in the Field House, the new, three-story 191,000 square-foot building on Hillside Road brings all of UConn’s recreation and fitness programs under one roof for the first time.
“The main goal of the Center is to enhance our ability to include everyone,” says Cyndi Costanzo, executive director of UConn Recreation. “It’s a way of making a larger university seem smaller.”
The fitness opportunities and programming available at the Center range from yoga and Pilates to outdoor adventure trips, intramurals, and club sports. The complex includes a new synthetic turf field, 30,000 square feet of fitness space, a cycle-sharing program, and an aquatics center. There will also be resources for personal training and nutritional coaching.
“Heather showed me three of the health assessment rooms in what’s called the performance suite,” says Mayer. “The windows face the big tower with the Husky logo on it. That’s a logo that I’ve come to really appreciate.”
Following his visit, Mayer decided to make a naming gift to the Center, through which his funding will support UConn Recreation’s health and wellness programming year-round.
“If I care about something, I’m going to put my money behind it,” he says. “UConn has been a vital part of my life. It’s where I learned my trade and developed lifelong relationships. The lessons I learned there, both good and bad, have been invaluable in shaping who I’ve become.”
Through his generosity, Mayer will now play an expanded role in shaping a whole new generation of Huskies.