Former trustee chairman donates $1 million to UConn

Grace Merritt
Grace Merritt

2 min read

After serving as chairman of the board of trustees for six years, John W. Rowe developed a lifelong connection to UConn. So he was eager to step in to help students when the pandemic hit campus.

John and Valerie Rowe
John and Valerie Rowe

He and his wife, Valerie, recently donated $1 million to help students, many of whom had lost on-campus and summer jobs and struggled to pay tuition.

The Rowes’ donation provides an immediate infusion of spendable cash to buoy students in the Rowe Scholars program. The gift doubled their scholarships and helped with books, fees, and other pressing expenses.

“I was surprised, thrilled, and grateful when I heard about it,” said Meghan Long, of Middletown, Conn., a Rowe Scholar majoring in physiology and neurobiology. Because of COVID-19, her summer internship at Hartford Hospital had been cancelled. She was scrambling to pay for fall tuition.

Started 16 years ago, the Rowes Scholars program recruits underrepresented Connecticut students with high financial need into the health sciences. It provides scholarships and mentoring to prepare students for a broad range of healthcare jobs, such as x-ray technicians, pharmacists, nurses, and physicians.

“This thoughtful gift could not come at a more critical time for these students and the University. We are so grateful to the Rowes for their generous support,” UConn President Tom Katsouleas said.

John Rowe, M.D., who was chairman of the board of trustees from 2003-2009, said he has a strong bond with UConn and the Rowe Scholars program. Rowe, who was chairman and CEO of Aetna at the time, steered the university through a period of tremendous growth. He oversaw the upgrade and expansion of the campus and was instrumental in increasing student enrollment and the university’s national academic ranking.

The Rowes, both academics, live in New York City. He teaches at Columbia University where he is the Julius B. Richmond Professor of Health Policy and Aging in the School of Public Health. Valerie, who holds a doctorate, is a retired associate professor at Fordham University’s School of Education.

The Rowes said they hope the Rowe program helps to start closing racial disparities in the medical field.

“It’s nice to see the impact it’s made on them and the impact that it will make going forward as they get out in the workforce,” Valerie Rowe said. “In the long run, I think it will make a difference.”

Jennifer Lease Butts, who runs the Rowe Scholars program, said donations help UConn attract and support top students from Connecticut.

“It’s really programs like Rowe Scholars and support from donors that help us attract the best students,” Lease Butts said. “They make a difference for students, giving them the ability to afford to attend college.”

Learn more about supporting student scholarships here.

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