Alum’s Bequest Supports Community Service, Judaic Studies

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Grace Merritt

3 min read

Stephen Cohen led a quiet, intensely private life in southern California, but his legacy at UConn is larger than life.

Stephen ’65 (CLAS) left $4.1 million in his will to UConn to support two scholarship funds and programming in the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life.

“We couldn’t be more excited and more grateful,” said Joe Briody, UConn’s associate director in student activities. “This allows us to recognize the work of more students and give a higher amount per student to help defray the cost of college.”

Stephen started contributing to these funds years ago, but this new estate gift dramatically elevates them. With this major infusion of funds from his estate, his retirement plan, and an annuity, he’ll be helping many more students afford college and will raise the caliber of the Judaic Center for decades to come.

“This is a very generous gift and will help us tremendously going forward,” said Sebastian Wogenstein, interim director of the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Life.

“It will also allow us to further strengthen our programming and really put us on the map compared to other excellent Judaic Studies programs across the country,” he said.

One of the scholarship funds is earmarked for students concentrating in Judaic Studies while the other is for those committed to eliminating bigotry, prejudice and discrimination.

The Cohen scholarships, established in the ’90s, have already had an impact. The Martha and Albert Cohen Scholarship Fund, named after Cohen’s parents, has helped many community service-minded student leaders afford college and inspired them to continue their community spirited work in their careers. Over the years, these students have held hunger drives, worked at animal shelters, worked to end homelessness, and dedicated summers to the Hole in the Wall Camp for terminally ill children, among other public service endeavors.

One student, Claire Simonich, ’13 (BUS) (CLAS), of Oakland, Calif., said her volunteer work at UConn inspired her to pursue a career in public service.

“The scholarship allowed me to graduate debt-free and go to law school, where I became and remain committed to public interest work,” she said.

Winning the award was also a confidence booster, said Simonich.

“I think getting scholarships at UConn, including this one, helped me feel like I was accomplished and capable of accomplishing great things. It inspired me to reach for higher goals, like applying to Ivy League law schools,” said Simonich, who graduated from Yale Law School in 2016.

The causes that Stephen chose to foster through his scholarships reflect the values he was brought up with, according to his brother, Robert. Their mother, Martha, was widowed early on and supported her two sons by working at an electronics factory in Waterbury.

“She always raised us to follow her example,” Robert Cohen ’67 (CLAS) said. “She had limited means but tried to help where she could. She brought us up to respect and treat people equally, including those who were less privileged than others. I know that carried Stephen forward.”

Robert co-sponsored one of the Cohen scholarships. He and his wife, Barbara Sklar Cohen ’67 (CLAS), are co-sponsors of the fund benefiting the Center for Judaic Studies.

Stephen moved out to California shortly after graduating from UConn and took a job as a computer programmer at Hughes Aircraft Co., his brother said. He then went to graduate school at the University of Southern California in L.A., where he earned a degree in computer science. He later attended law school at Pepperdine University and went into corporate business law for Mitsubishi Corp. He spent the last 30 years of his life working for the County of Los Angeles as Chief of Regulatory Affairs Review for Information Technology.

Beyond his professional life, he was a strong advocate for programs that focused on and fostered tolerance and understanding among people, Robert said. He cared deeply for others and his generous bequest to his alma mater will continue to change and improve lives forever.

Find more information on planned giving here.


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