Dr. Sandi Hastings ’89 MA, ’94 Ph.D. (Neag), a national workforce development expert, recently reconnected with her alma mater, UConn’s Neag School, to build crucial support in a collaborative way.
Sandi Hastings ’89 MA, ’94 Ph.D. (Neag) began to contemplate the kind of relationship she wanted to have with her graduate school alma mater after her son was involved in a serious car accident.
“That experience made me aware of how short our lives can be,” she says. “I decided I should stop procrastinating and start doing what I wanted to do to give back to UConn.”
Now, with her son recovered and the schedule of someone who’s “semi-retired,” Dr. Hastings has joined the Neag School’s Board of Advocates and volunteered to serve as the board’s inaugural chair. She began her service in September 2018.
“One of my major strengths is helping organizations set up processes and procedures that would elevate their work,” she says. “And one of the reasons I agreed to do this is that I think Neag’s Dean [Gladis] Kersaint is a visionary. She has real clarity about what needs to be done to lift Neag to the next level. Her enthusiasm sold me.”
Dr. Hastings is not new to board work, having served for many years on the board of Journey Home, an organization that works to alleviate homelessness in the greater Hartford area. But, until now, she had not done much direct fundraising.
That all changed when she asked herself about her philanthropic interests and the impact that she would like to have on others.
“I had this ongoing dream of doing something to help women,” she says. “And the Dean has this vision that we should offer all students an opportunity to do a semester or a summer abroad during their time at Neag. I thought this might be the chance to combine my interests in women, education, the global workforce, and having a lasting impact.”
With a goal of funding a $50,000 endowment to provide women at Neag with support for study abroad opportunities, Dr. Hastings put her plan into action. She began by speaking with personal friends who shared her interest in supporting women and education. In three weeks’ time, she had spoken to 15 people and secured a number of five-year commitments.
Knowing that not everyone could make a long-term commitment, she next invited a group of friends to her home for dinner with Dean Kersaint, asking them to contribute whatever amount they could to the cause.
“I knew the collaborative nature would be something that would reel them in,” says Dr. Hastings. “We had a very engaging conversation about the future of education. Dean Kersaint talked about the need for students to have diverse educators in the classroom and how global experiences will help new teachers better understand the needs of their students. Even if people decided not to give, they walked away learning something about UConn and what Neag is trying to accomplish.”
The results have been inspiring. Dr. Hastings has raised more than $45,000 toward the endowment minimum of $50,000 for a Neag Global Education Fund. With a list of more than 350 additional contacts at her disposal, she is considering upping her goal to $100,000.
She has also worked with other members of the Board of Advocates to get them comfortable with both their giving and fundraising strategies. The Board will be offering matching funding for the Neag School faculty project that garners the most support during UConn’s 36-hour giving initiative, UConn Gives, on March 27 and 28.
“Neag changed the trajectory of my life,” says Dr. Hastings. “I’ve traveled all over the world, done consulting, and been involved in work I didn’t even know I wanted to do. None of that would have been possible without my graduate education. I’m really happy I’ve reconnected, and I’ve found joy in working with people who have similar interests.”
Join Dr. Hastings in supporting global education opportunities for women at the Neag School.
Ray Neag ’56 ’01H, of Goshen, Conn. and Wyomissing, Penn., a philanthropist who built his fortune in the medical device industry, died Thursday, April 19 at age 86.
He died at home with his wife, Carole Neag, by his side. He is survived by his daughter, Beth Lamoin and her husband Jim, son David Hogan and his wife Heidi, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and extended family.
“Ray Neag had a profound impact on the University of Connecticut and our entire state. With his first record-breaking gift to the Neag School of Education to his generous support for life-saving care at the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Calhoun Cardiology Center, and many other programs, he played an incredibly important role in our history,” said President Susan Herbst.
Herbst continued: “He keenly understood UConn’s potential to be a top public research university and academic medical center, and how to build the momentum to get there. Ray was a visionary who advocated tirelessly on UConn’s behalf and inspired so many other alumni to follow his lead. The entire UConn community sends its deepest condolences to his wife, Carole, and the Neag family. We are honored that Ray’s legacy will carry on here, where Ray and Carole’s support saves lives every day at UConn Health and graduates of the Neag School are teaching in nearly every school district across Connecticut and beyond.”
Andrew Agwunobi, MD, CEO of UConn Health and EVP for Health Affairs added: “UConn Health mourns with Carole and the Neag family today. Ray Neag was an inspiration to so many. He was unyielding in his generosity of time, talent, and treasure because to do any differently would have run counter to his compassion and munificence. Carole and Ray’s support for patient care, teaching, and groundbreaking research in the cancer and cardiology programs, diagnostic imaging, dermatology, and ophthalmology has made a difference in the lives of countless patients and their families. Ray was truly a wonderful man and will be missed by the whole UConn Health family.”
Carole and Ray Neag are among the most prominent figures in UConn’s 138-year history, next to brothers Charles and Augustus Storrs, who donated the land and funding in 1880 to start the University. As UConn’s largest donors, the Neags transformed the Neag School of Education and the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center and made significant contributions to many other programs. Their legacy, however, bespeaks more than philanthropic generosity. Through a deep connection to the institution and the UConn community, the Neags helped raise UConn’s national profile and elevate the UConn Foundation’s fundraising operation.
Neag was a visionary foremost. He approached philanthropic pursuits using the same acumen that enabled him to build a small medical device company that manufactured hypodermic and textile needles into a pioneering manufacturer of cardiac surgery devices, including the first polyurethane catheter—widely used today—in 1978.
In an interview with the Hartford Courant on February 23, 1999, Neag explained the timing of his $27 million (included a $4 million match from the state) gift—at the time, the largest gift ever to a public university in New England and the largest gift ever to a school of education in the country: “I worried about the commitment of other people to the university, but I could see it was starting to happen.”
Neag understood the dynamics of alumni engagement and how to build momentum. He wanted his gift—and the many that followed—to effect change. When the state voted to invest $1 billion to revitalize campus through the UCONN 2000 initiative and the UConn Foundation wanted to kick off the University’s first-ever fundraising capital campaign, Neag knew it was the opportune moment to make a major gift that would do more than help a program. He was right. It jumpstarted the capital campaign and helped the UConn Foundation’s earnest efforts to bring more and more successful alumni back into the fold.
This storied alumni relationship didn’t take off until decades after Neag graduated, following an inauspicious Thanksgiving in 1995.
Neag, the youngest of eight children, grew up in Torrington, Conn. He started his college career at UConn’s Waterbury campus before joining the U.S. Air Force, and then completed a bachelor’s degree in political science at the main campus in Storrs in 1956, following in the footsteps of his brothers Traian Neag ’49 and Sevier Neag ’52. After graduation, Neag went on to study at Harvard University’s advanced management program and the American Graduate School of International Management. He started Arrow International in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1975.
Neag had been disconnected from UConn until he asked his niece, Sally Reis ’81 ’86, over Thanksgiving dinner about how much it cost to endow a chair. Reis and her husband, Joseph Renzulli, were faculty in the education school and leading experts in gifted education. Serendipitously, the UConn Foundation had recently brought in Edward Allenby, then vice president for institutional advancement, to take fundraising to a new level.
Allenby told the Courant in 1999 about their first meeting, “He looked me in the eye and said, ‘Where have you been?’”
Shortly thereafter, Neag made his first major gift of $1.5 million in late 1996, naming a chair in gifted education in memory of his wife of 40 years, Lynn Neag, who had lost her battle with colon cancer earlier that year. A few years later, he stood at the state capitol with then-UConn President Philip Austin to announce the largest gift in UConn’s history for the School of Education, which was renamed in his honor.
Over the next two decades, Carole and Ray Neag became two of the University’s strongest advocates. They volunteered their leadership and invested in the cancer, cardiology, and orthopaedic programs at UConn Health, the School of Nursing, and the British literature program. Each donation has made a difference.
“My uncle was a kind and gracious man who never forgot the family lessons he learned of kindness, humility, gentleness, and generosity. Our family is proud of all he did for UConn, a place that gave him his academic start in life, and so grateful for the many gifts that he and Carole bestowed upon so many important causes. The Neag name will forever be linked to education and health and Ray’s spirit will live on in all of the good work that their gifts have inspired for generations to come,” said Reis, the Letitia Morgan Chair in Educational Psychology.
Since the first gift, the Neag School of Education has moved up from below 50 to be ranked in the top 25 public graduate schools of education in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report. And 164 out of 166 school districts throughout Connecticut employ Neag School of Education graduates.
“To say that Ray Neag has had a life-changing impact on many thousands of individuals is no exaggeration. For one, UConn’s Neag School of Education would simply not be where it is today without the truly extraordinary support of Ray and Carole Neag. Ray, our longtime champion and hero, strongly believed in education as society’s ‘greatest equalizer.’ He understood the profound level of positive change that education can bring to the world. The legacy he leaves not only here at the Neag School, but also across the entire University, among generations of students and alumni, and with the wider community cannot be overstated. We share our very deepest condolences to his family and friends. We could not be prouder to have our school bear his name,” said Gladis Kersaint, dean of the Neag School of Education.
“Ray Neag was the personification of a true gentleman and philanthropist. Over my 14 years as dean, he became my friend, mentor, and trusted adviser. He believed that teachers are some of the most important people in our society,” added Richard Schwab, the Ray Neag Endowed Professor of Educational Leadership and emeritus dean of the Neag School. “His generosity and support for the Neag School is unmatched by any other philanthropist in the nation who believes in the importance of education. In the years to come, generations of teachers, administrators, and families will benefit from his love and generosity.”
At the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center, their funding supports life-saving patient care and immunology research. Today, the Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center is leading the world’s first-ever ovarian cancer vaccine clinical trial; the vaccine boosts patients’ immune response to destroy cancer cells.
“Ray Neag was a star—luminous, warm, and brilliant. He radiated light, light of generosity, light of love of others. The body of the stars eventually disappears, but their light travels forever. The light of Ray Neag’s generosity similarly continues to illuminate the world in so many brilliant hues today, as it will in the times to come,” said Pramod Srivastava, Ph.D., MD, lead researcher for the ovarian cancer vaccine trial, director of the Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center, and recipient of the 2016 Carole and Ray Neag Medal of Honor.
The Neags’ desire to stay connected beyond their philanthropy has led to a remarkable partnership and extraordinary patient care. The Neags made it possible for UConn to be the first hospital in the state to offer TomoTherapy for precise radiation. When they heard that patients were receiving chemotherapy in outdated chairs, they stepped in with a one-time gift to purchase state-of-the-art infusion recliners.
The Neags have also funded major strides in the cardiology and orthopaedic departments. Through the Ray Neag Distinguished Chair in Vascular Biology, they have contributed toward research breakthroughs in the signaling mechanisms that regulate cardiovascular functions by chairholder and renowned cardiologist Bruce T. Liang, MD, dean of the School of Medicine.
“UConn Health has lost a great friend in Ray, but will always remember and celebrate his successes and all the wonderful things he has done. We will always be reminded and inspired by his humanism, selflessness, and dedication to helping others including those who are less fortunate, and his unfailing positive views on life, friendship, and family. We send our heartfelt sympathy and condolences to Carole Neag and the entire Neag family. He has left an indelible mark on UConn Health and his legacy will live on in the many centers, departments, programs and initiatives he has made possible,” said Liang.
The Neags have been recognized by numerous organizations in Connecticut and Pennsylvania for their philanthropy. The Warner Theatre in Torrington, Conn. named the Carole and Ray Neag Performing Arts Center in 2008. UConn named its most prestigious award in the couple’s honor to recognize donors and faculty who, like the Neags, make remarkable contributions to the field of medicine and UConn Health. Recipients of the Carole and Ray Neag Medal of Honor carry on the legacy of the most generous supporters in UConn’s history.
If you would like to share a message of condolence or share a memory with Carole and the Neag family, please fill out the form below. As appropriate, the UConn Foundation will present personal messages from the UConn community to the family in the coming days.
From the moment the Neag School of Education announced its intention this past fall to launch a new scholarship fund in honor of longtime colleague Valerie Pichette, intense support from within and beyond the University quickly became clear.
Faculty, staff, administrators, alumni, students, and friends of UConn immediately offered an outpouring of contributions — contributions that accumulated so quickly, in fact, as to reach the UConn Foundation’s endowment requirement within a mere six weeks, ensuring that the Valerie J. Pichette Scholarship Fund will now honor Pichette every year in perpetuity.
To date, a total of more than $56,000 has been raised for the scholarship through cash and pledges from 117 donors, according to the UConn Foundation. Not only has it turned out to be the top employee-supported fund at the University for fiscal year 2016, but the total amount raised in Pichette’s honor also is more than double the minimum needed to establish a new fund named in honor of a University staff member.
The scholarship was created to honor Pichette’s 30 years of service to the state of Connecticut, including her 18 years at the Neag School, where she served as an executive assistant – first with Dean Richard Schwab and later with former Dean Thomas DeFranco. However, Pichette, who was privately battling cancer when the scholarship was first initiated, passed away in November before news of its status as an endowed fund had become official.
Paying It Forward
Later this month, the Valerie J. Pichette Scholarship Fund will honor its first student recipient, Luis Organista ’14 (CAHNR). Organista, a UConn alum with a bachelor’s degree in natural resources and the environment, will be joining the Neag School’s Avery Point campus this May as a student in the Teacher Certification Program for College Graduates (TCPCG) — an 11-month, post-baccalaureate teacher education program through which aspiring schoolteachers earn a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, as well as recommendation for teacher certification by the state of Connecticut.
Organista, who will receive $1,000 in financial support for the coming academic year through the new fund, has his sights set on teaching science, specifically biology and environmental science. Since graduating with his undergraduate degree, Organista has worked in a number of roles for the state of Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection. This past summer, part of his job involved educating 20 inner-city children about environmental conservation and fisheries — which included taking children for fishing trips on local lakes. It was in this setting, interacting with school-aged youth on a daily basis and getting them excited about the natural world, that Organista found himself inspired to explore a career path focused on teaching.
“I decided teaching would be great because I enjoyed being with the kids,” says Organista, now 24. As he started researching teacher certification programs, he soon became aware of TCPCG. Knowing, as he says, that “it would work out perfectly,” he headed to an upcoming information session and was ultimately accepted into the program. In preparation for his time in the TCPCG program, Organista is currently working as a science and math tutor at Windham Middle School.
“We’re overwhelmed and speechless by the amount of support everyone has given. It’s a testament to my mom and to how she impacted so many people.” — Dan Pichette ’04, ’11
Upon learning that he had been selected as the recipient of the Pichette scholarship, Organista began reading about Pichette and her legacy. What he found, he says, “really showed how much she cared for the students and how much work she put into ensuring that they enjoyed what they did.”
“Receiving this award helps me to think about doing the same thing,” he adds. “I want to be a teacher that helps students out and is always there to help with any problems or in improving themselves. I want to be a role model for the students in school and in the community.”
He says he also felt a special connection with Pichette after realizing that she had worked at Quinebaug Valley Community College in Willimantic prior to her time at UConn; Organista is a lifelong resident of Willimantic.
‘All Thanks to Her’
The scholarship will be formally presented to Organista at the Neag School’s annual Honors Celebration on April 20, where he will have the opportunity to meet members of Pichette’s family. Organista says he is eager to learn more about Pichette and to express his gratitude to her family members: “I hope that they maybe will follow me in my career and see where I head so that they can see the potential that I’ve reached – and that’s all thanks to her.”
Organista also has been named the recipient of two other scholarship awards — the Husky Teach Noyce Scholarship, which is funded by the National Science Foundation to help support science, technology, engineering, and math education in the U.S., and the Neag School of Education Graduate Fellowship, awarded to graduate students with strong academic performance.
“It sounds like [Luis] is the perfect candidate and what my mom would have wanted — especially with him going through TCPCG, a program that was close to my mom’s heart. It’s the cherry on top that he’s from Willimantic, with our family having roots there,” says Pichette’s son Dan Pichette ’04, ’11, dean of students at the Journalism and Media Academy Magnet School in Hartford, Conn. “The idea that this scholarship will go on in perpetuity — we’re overwhelmed and speechless by the amount of support everyone has given. It’s a testament to my mom and to how she impacted so many people.”
“This is a wonderful example of how faculty and staff give ‘Close to Home’ in support and honor of our colleagues,” says Heather McDonald, senior director of development at the UConn Foundation. “It’s a powerful statement to have more than 100 donations within six weeks.”
The Foundation’s staff played a major role in the swift and successful establishment of the Valerie J. Pichette Scholarship Fund, adds Dean Schwab, who worked closely with Pichette for many years at the Neag School. “We are very thankful to the Foundation team for their partnership in pulling all of the moving pieces together,” he says. “The fact that this scholarship came together so quickly is a testament to all of those who knew and loved Val.”
When cancer patients step into the chemotherapy area at the UConn Health Outpatient Pavilion, they may be reminded of a cozy library at a four-star hotel.
The waiting area is lined with floor-to-ceiling, cherry bookshelves loaded with 1,800 books. Carpeted and painted in soothing greys and creams, the room has two couches and is dotted with rose-colored, upholstered chairs.
In the infusion area, they’ll find an open design with a nurse’s station in the center surrounded by a mix of bays offering patients a choice of private, semi-private and open infusion spaces for chemotherapy, depending on their mood.
These design touches are due to input from Maryann dePreaux Walmsley, a cancer patient herself, who wanted to make the chemotherapy—and other infusion treatment—experience a little more pleasant for patients and their caregivers.
Unfortunately, dePreaux Walmsley never got to see the new library and suite she helped design. She died in April 2014 at age 52 after fighting cancer for four years.
To commemorate her vision and advocacy, her husband, Tom Walmsley, recently gave a large monetary donation to name The Maryann dePreaux Walmsley Cancer Center Library in her memory.
“She thought it would be nice if patients had a library here so they can grab a book or an iPad and be entertained for a few hours. That might not be anything to cure their cancer, but anything to make an unpleasant experience a little more tolerable is worth it,” Tom Walmsley ’82 said.
The gift supports the construction of the library and is part of Bioscience Connecticut, which includes the construction of the Outpatient Pavilion, a new hospital tower, and the renovation of John Dempsey Hospital.
dePreaux Walmsley was a warm, smart, dynamic businesswoman who not only fought her cancer valiantly, but was an advocate for other cancer patients.
dePreaux Walmsley also organized a team for the annual Run/Walk to Break the Silence on Ovarian Cancer and volunteered as a committee member of the UConn Cancer Research Golf Tournament.
Petite, pretty, and thoughtful, dePreaux Walmsley was an avid knitter and golfer who loved to travel and would talk about her exotic trips to Tahiti, Bora Bora, and China. She loved to entertain and always put her family first, said Tom Walmsley, who is second vice president of Bond & Financial Products at Travelers Insurance.
Tom and Maryann’s friends and coworkers conducted book drives at Cigna and Travelers, where they collected 2,500 books and funds for several iPads. Tom Walmsley stocked the shelves with most of the books, saving some to replenish the shelves in the future.
In addition to the library, the design also includes dePreaux Walmsley’s suggestion to make the chemo area have more of an open concept space. “One of the things she wanted was she felt it was important to have an area where patients could converse if they wanted,” said Nurse Manager Susan Chelllis. “There are patients who really benefit from talking to each other, so having an open area for them to talk was important. But on days they didn’t feel well or wanted privacy, they can go to the private areas.”
Tom Trutter, associate vice president of campus planning, design, and construction, said her suggestion led to several changes in the design and ultimately improved the atmosphere in the center and made it more comfortable.
“Maryann’s gift will make possible a creative and positive healing environment for cancer patients within the Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at UConn Health,” said Josh Newton, president and CEO of the UConn Foundation.
Maryann’s daughter, Nicole Nehmer, said her mother was always an advocate, despite being so ill.
“She took after my grandmother,” Nehmer said. “She always liked to get involved and make sure people had a voice.”
Nehmer said dePreaux Walmsley was a terrific role model and managed to balance raising a daughter, being a wife, taking classes, and working full-time as an investment managing director at Cigna. dePreaux Walmsley earned her executive MBA from UConn in 1989.
“They say you can’t have it all, but she did,” Nehmer said. “She was truly an amazing role model to me and my friends. “She not only balanced them all, but she excelled at all of them.”
Naming the library after her is a fitting tribute, Nehmer said. “It’s a testament to her legacy, leaving her stamp as she tried to overcome her disease,” she said.
If you’d like to find out more about naming opportunities at UConn Health, please call (860) 486-4524.
Without scholarships, Justis Lopez wouldn’t be on the verge of realizing his dream to be a public school teacher. Lopez is about to gain statewide recognition as part of the UConn Foundation’s efforts to raise $150 million over the next five years for scholarships and fellowships.
Lopez, 22, is a graduate student in the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut. He will graduate this May with a master’s degree in education and is featured in a series of National Public Radio spots that begin running April 20 and continue to Memorial Day Weekend.
“My family is not wealthy and I knew early on that I would need to work hard and earn scholarships if I was to become the first person in my family to graduate from college, let alone graduate school,” said Lopez, who finds time for a little fun at community and athletic events by performing as Jonathan the Husky.
Since Lopez arrived on campus four years ago from his hometown of Manchester, Conn., he has supervised more than 150 first-generation students from low-income backgrounds, served as a peer mentor advisor, experienced an “alternative” spring break helping the disadvantaged in Atlanta, studied World War II and the Holocaust in Germany, worked as a graduate assistant in Neag’s Dean’s Office as part of an initiative to improve diversity in teaching, and taught English and special education to public school students.
“One of the happiest days of my life was learning that not only had I been accepted to the Neag School but that I had secured the financial support from UConn to actually attend. Generous donors to the Foundation gave me an opportunity but I understood that what I did with it, was up to me,” said Lopez. “My goal is to become a social studies teacher with aspirations of becoming a principal and superintendent working on educational policy.”