Helping graduate students while honoring husband

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Grace Merritt

2 min read

Marjorie “Jean” Romano ’77 MA wanted to both honor her late husband and support graduate students conducting summer research.

So, she decided to set up a bequest that will supplement a scholarship that she and her husband, Antonio, a UConn biology professor and CLAS dean, established several years ago. Her planned gift will support the Antonio H. & Marjorie J. Romano Graduate Education Fund.

Traditional support for graduate students, including teaching assistantships and external grants, usually provides funding only for the school year. The fellowship provides funding for microbiology students so they can continue their research uninterrupted throughout the summer.

“The scholarship helps students concentrate on research through the summer break,” Jean explains. “Previously, many students had to leave and work at Domino’s or someplace else for the summer. It really bothered Tony to see a student who had been right on the edge of doing something really promising lose their scholarship funding and have to take off for the summer.”

Her planned gift will honor Tony’s legacy at UConn.

“I think it’s important to carry Tony’s name and passion on through the university,” Jean says. “I want to leave that for UConn.”

It also underscores the Romanos’ passion for the transformative power of a quality education to overcome social-economic and diversity barriers.

“I hope that this bequest will allow young scholars who have a problem affording a quality education to continue to be able to do research and come out of UConn ready to work and not in need of additional studies,” Jean says. “I just want to make the world a little stronger, one student at a time.”

The scholarship has already helped 19 students, including Nidhi Vijayan, who received the award this year.

“The Romano fellowship was highly beneficial for us to continue integral research at the Nyholm lab,” Vijayan says. “We appreciated the recognition and encouragement it provided.”

Michael A. Lynes, professor and former head of UConn’s Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, says the Romanos’ longstanding friendship and support have been vitally important.

“Their financial support of the department has been invaluable in supporting the graduate students of Molecular and Cell Biology and, thus, has also indirectly supported the large research mission of the department,” Lynes says.

Jean is retired from her job as director of bilingual education in Windham Public Schools. She proudly points out that Windham is home to the first dual language program in Connecticut. In fact, the Romanos raised a foster son whom she met through the Windham school system. This formed a family of four sons, each unique and treasured.

Tony, himself, benefitted from a scholarship that transformed his life. The youngest of four sons of Italian immigrants, Antonio earned a full scholarship to Rutgers University. There, he quickly found a home in the sciences and became a graduate student of Dr. Selman Waksman, a Nobel Laureate in microbial biology.

After earning his doctorate, Tony served in the Public Health Service at the Robert A. Taft Sanitary Engineering Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. Later, he moved to the University of Cincinnati, where he became head of Biological Sciences. He arrived at UConn in 1971 as a biology professor, eventually becoming department head, then CLAS dean from 1992 to 1995.

Jonathan at an event in Hartford CT
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