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How One Act of Generosity Can Change a Life

Grace Merritt
Grace Merritt

3 min read

Javante Danvers is living proof of the life-changing power of scholarships.

“If you had told me years ago that I’d be at a four-year university taking classes like this I would have told you that was impossible,” said Danvers, of Hartford. “I’m still shocked to this day that I’m graduating in a few months.”

photo of javante danvers
Javante Danvers, scholarship recipient.

Danvers, an allied health major who plans to become a nurse practitioner, was speaking to about 100 scholarship donors and student recipients at an upbeat, second annual Celebration of Scholarship Reception at the Alumni Center recently. Not only is Danvers grateful for the opportunity to be the first in her family to go to college, she fully intends to pay it forward.

“My scholarship gave me the tools to continue my education and modeled how one act of generosity can change someone’s entire life,” she said. “I can’t wait until I’m able to impact a life the same way my donor has impacted mine with a gift of a college education.” She is the recipient of the Dennison Nash Undergraduate Scholarships Fund and her story is featured in the UConn Foundation’s Transform Lives Impact Report.

Throughout the night, many donors had the chance to meet the students receiving their scholarships as they mingled over hot hors d’oeuvres followed by UConn Dairy Bar ice cream sandwiches.

Braley Degenhardt, a senior acting major, gave a passionate testimonial about her experience studying Shakespeare via the Robert A. McDonald Semester in London Fund.

“I came back from London a changed individual,” she said. “I would not be as confident, as independent or as significantly career focused as I am without my time in London. And the person I have to thank for that is [retired faculty member] Bob McDonald. Without Bob and his generous donation to the department of dramatic arts, the program simply would not exist.”

Keynote speaker Bill Clemens, UConn Foundation board member, described how meaningful it was to receive a thank you note from his scholarship recipient that he proudly displays in his office. He established the William B. Clemens III and Walter Whitnack Scholarship Fund.

One of the evening’s speakers, Dan Toscano ’87 (BUS), talked about meeting his student, Bryant X. Mercado, a business major who received the Joseph P. and Rose M. Toscano Memorial Scholarship.

photo of dan toscano and bryant mercado
Dan Toscano ’87 (BUS) and student scholarship recipient Bryant X. Mercado

“We just met for the first time. He’s a freshman. He’s the fourth student we helped make their way through UConn,” said Toscano, chairman of the UConn Foundation board of directors. “It’s an honor to watch this army of people come out of the university prepared to take on the world, solve problems, be successful, and be great Huskies,” he said.

“The way I think about it, having once been a student here-and now being a donor and a UConn parent-is we’re all on this trek together. We’re all at different points in the journey, but all have so much in common. This is a university of “bootstrap” people who came from a variety of means and are in the process of or have made successes of themselves as adults.”

Toscano thanked the donors for enabling the students to succeed and praised the students for their tenacity.

“It may not be easy to get here. It may not be easy to stay here. But you guys are fighters,” he said. “You’re smart, you’re motivated, and you’re willing to do the hard work to be successful.”

UConn President Susan Herbst also thanked the students for making UConn Nation proud and thanked the donors for their thoughtful philanthropy.

“Thanks so much to so many of you here tonight for giving what I think is the most transformational gift you can give to the university,” she said.

Herbst and her husband, Doug Hughes, have established a scholarship as well: the Susan Herbst and Douglas Hughes Family Scholarship in the Humanities.

Since launching the $150 million Transform Lives Scholarship initiative in July 2013, the UConn Foundation has raised $90.7 million for student scholarships.

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Drag-racing Dentist Gives Scholarship

Grace Merritt
Grace Merritt

3 min read

When she was in high school, Carolina Giraldo ’95 DMD would drag race boys in her lime-green VW Rabbit after school at Seaside Park in Bridgeport, Conn.

“I was a sight to see. You barely could see my head. But I would win. That is the car that inspired me, if you could believe it. I knew if I could win in that thing, I had some kind of talent.”

Dr. Giraldo, who is all of 4-foot-10, is all about perseverance. Born in Bogota, Colombia and raised in Bridgeport, she put herself through college and UConn School of Dentistry.

She opened her own dental practice 21 years ago and now wants to help other students like her. So she recently started a scholarship with an initial gift of $10,000 to the UConn dental school for students from underrepresented groups.

“I want the minority population to grow in the field,” she said. “I want a bigger presence of women, of minorities, to get into the field and make a difference.”

Dr. Giraldo wants to give back to help make the path easier than hers was. She and her older sister, Diana, had to grow up quickly. While their parents each worked three jobs, the sisters practically ran the home front and raised their youngest brother, Randy. Dr. Giraldo remembers cooking dinner for the first time when she was only seven.

“We cooked, we ironed, we cleaned. We pretty much raised ourselves,” she said.

She always knew that if she wanted to have an education past high school, she’d have to do it on her own. So she juggled work and books and put herself through college—then dental school.

Scholarships like the one Dr. Giraldo is giving really make a difference in the lives of dental students, said Sarita Arteaga ’99 DMD, MA, MAGD, the school’s associate dean.

“It’s not just help with tuition,” she said. “I get comments back that it also helps them with the little things so they don’t have to take out another loan. It also helps them to know that someone is investing in them. They say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe somebody was in this position and not only wants to give back to the school, but wants to do the same thing for me’.”

Dr. Giraldo’s dental practice, All Smiles, in Norwalk, is like her, vibrant and welcoming. She designed the industrial-chic medical suite herself and decorated it with original artwork.

She remembers first becoming interested in dentistry as a child when she would watch customers visiting her father’s deli in Yonkers, N.Y.

“I would always look at people’s teeth. I don’t know why,” she said. “Whenever they spoke, I would see how their teeth met and I would try to figure it out—this tooth doesn’t belong there, I’d move it over this way. It was really like art mixed with medicine, so it was perfect. I love the art aspect of it. I still get to move teeth and design a smile just like I did behind the counter.”

These days, she lives in Redding, Conn., with her children, Enzo, 17, and Savannah, 16, her fiancé, Hernan, and his son, Alejandro, 18.

And she still likes driving fast. She even tried her hand at hand at Indy-style racing at the Mario Andretti Racing School in Las Vegas, Nev. recently. Her short stature made it challenging and a bit painful.

“I couldn’t reach the pedal. It was pitiful. They put seven cushions around me,” she said, chuckling.

The g-forces slammed her head up against the side of the car and made it difficult to move. Even so, she pushed through and made it up to 149 miles per hour.

Dr. Giraldo’s scholarship supports the UConn Foundation’s ongoing Transform Lives initiative to raise $150 million for student scholarships. You can support future dentists with a gift to the UConn School of Dentistry or contribute directly to Dr. Giraldo’s scholarship for underserved dental students.

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Transformed Lives: Scholarship Students Say Thank You to Donors

Tiffany Ventura Thiele
Tiffany Ventura Thiele

2 min read

How many ways can you say “thank you?” That was the job of approximately 30 scholarship students during the Transform Lives Scholarship Dinner on Thursday, October 7.

Throughout the evening, students had the opportunity to meet personally with scholarship donors, sharing their stories and progress so far at UConn. During the speaking portion of the evening, each student also shared what the gift of a scholarship meant to them and their families. With emotion and detail, many described how their scholarships eased stress and anxiety in the face of family illness, financial difficulties, and other hardships.

“This scholarship has really helped ease my financial burdens, but also has allowed me to worry less about finance and to get involved with clubs on campus,” said Jennifer Skoog, a sophomore from Monroe majoring in chemical engineering. “I’m really grateful for that, so thank you.”

Approximately 100 people were in attendance, including UConn Foundation Board members, many of whom are also scholarship donors; UConn President Susan Herbst; Provost Mun Choi; and Wayne Locust, vice president for Enrollment Planning and Management. Locust said it was important that the investment in student support continue.

“The investment is a true partnership that draws from family resources, University funds, and contributions from private donors and friends of the University,” he said. “We are very grateful for this important partnership and the fact that many students are able to benefit from the generosity and support provided by our donors and University friends.”

This gratitude was expressed by all students.

“The scholarship has really changed my life in unimaginable ways and has allowed me to focus on my academics and career,” said Riyad Twal, a senior from Stamford majoring in accounting. “Thank you so much.”

 

Scholarship Recipient Jennifer Skoog

Some spoke to the importance of giving back to UConn in the future.

“The scholarship has been so meaningful to me and my family,” said Sarah Schatz, a freshman from Columbia majoring in accounting. “It really shows to me and all the other scholarship recipients how hard work really does pay off. Thank you all for investing in my future and all of our futures, and I can’t wait to pay it forward.”

UConn Foundation Board Chair Dan Toscano thanked the donors for their support and commitment to the students.

“For the donors, and people who have been able to help, thank you doesn’t do justice for how we feel about what you do,” he said. “But it’s not just about your financial resources, it is the connection you have with the students, [and] it is your willingness to be here with your time and advice and ability to help in other ways. Thank you for that.”

Since launching the $150 million Transform Lives Scholarship initiative 18 months ago, the UConn Foundation has raised $54.5 million for student support – one-third of the way to goal.

“To continue the greatness of this University, we need our partnership to continue to be strong,” said Locust. “I have every confidence that UConn will remain in its rightful place among the national leading institutions in the country.

“Are we transforming lives? Indeed we are.”

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Transforming Lives: Nutmeg Scholar Sarah Schatz ’20

Jennifer Huber
Jennifer Huber

2 min read

What is it like to witness a dream come true? We wanted to capture that moment—the second a life changes. The moment a promising high school senior finds out she earned a full scholarship to UConn.

This is the story of Sarah Schatz, recipient of the prestigious Nutmeg Scholarship and a member of the class of 2020. UConn awards 15 Nutmeg Scholarships each year to outstanding students from Connecticut who demonstrate the academic prowess, commitment to public service, and character to become a leader in his or her chosen field.

“The Nutmeg Scholarship is so significant. UConn is such a great school,” says Schatz, a National Merit Commended Scholar and Governor’s Scholar from Columbia, Conn. “Knowing that I got the scholarship and that I’m staying in Connecticut was a huge relief for my family. We are all so happy and grateful to UConn.”

More and more top students are choosing UConn. The class of 2020 includes the largest number of valedictorians and salutatorians, 181, in UConn’s history. Nine out of 10 of them hail from towns across Connecticut.

Schatz has already earned an impressive array of academic achievements. After finishing in the top 10 her junior year on the finance exam at a DECA (an international program that develops leadership skills) international competition, Schatz placed first in the accounting applications competition at a DECA state-level conference during her junior and senior years. She served as an officer in the National Honor Society and treasurer of her high school’s chapter of the mathematics honor society Mu Alpha Theta.

In addition to diving into coursework—her major is accounting—Schatz looks forward to taking advantage of all the opportunities at her fingertips at UConn.

“The scholarship will help me be able to focus on my schoolwork. Instead of worrying about working, I can concentrate on academics and look at the extracurricular opportunities,” says Schatz. “UConn offers so much. I want to look into student business organizations like the accounting groups and other activities like intramural sports—I play field hockey and tennis.”

Active in community service, Schatz also was impressed with UConn’s community-oriented programs. Schatz was president of her school district’s Leos Club (junior program of the Lions Club) and fundraised for Camp Rising Sun, a summer camp in Colebrook, Conn. for children with cancer. She wants to check out UConn’s Alternative Breaks, which coordinate service-learning trips that prepare students for lifelong social action. Trips coming up this year focus on such important issues as homelessness, HIV/AIDS advocacy, human trafficking, and environmental conservation.

“Most of all I’m interested in meeting new people from all different places and backgrounds and with different interests,” Schatz adds. “I’m so excited to be going to UConn, and I’m so appreciative of the Nutmeg Scholarship, which has proven that hard work does pay off.”

Welcome to UConn Nation, Sarah Schatz ’20! Learn more about the Transform Lives initiative to raise $150 million for scholarships to support more students like Schatz.

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Alumnus, Student Star in UConn Scholarship Campaign

Jennifer Huber
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Angelo DeFazio, president and CEO of Arrow Pharmacy & Nutrition Centers, and medical student Fludiona Naka, a graduate of Hartford’s Bulkeley High School, will star in a statewide campaign promoting the UConn Foundation’s Transform Lives initiative to raise $150 million for scholarships and fellowships.

Since the Transform Lives initiative launched in 2015, the UConn Foundation raised more than $54 million for scholarships and fellowships.

DeFazio, a graduate of the UConn School of Pharmacy, and Naka will be featured in spots on National Public Radio beginning Feb. 8. The recurring segments will run for a six-week period. Both are enthusiastic about sharing their stories on NPR and encouraging others to give back to UConn.

“Philanthropy is unbelievably important,” said DeFazio. “Giving back is not an obligation. It’s a responsibility!”

[Listen to DeFazio’s WNPR segment]

DeFazio, of Canton, is a first-generation Italian-American raised in Danbury, where he maintains strong ties to the community. He helped put himself through UConn working as a garbage collector in greater Danbury before becoming the first in his family to graduate from college. He opened his first pharmacy in 1989 in Hartford.

Today, Arrow Pharmacy is the largest independent pharmacy chain in greater Hartford. In 2003, DeFazio endowed a scholarship for students with financial need at the School of Pharmacy. DeFazio serves on the UConn Foundation Board of Directors.

“Receiving a scholarship to attend UConn School of Medicine completely changed my life and so I am very excited to share my transformation story with NPR,” said Naka.

Naka is in her third year at the UConn School of Medicine, where she is pursuing her MD and MPH degrees. Highly accomplished, Naka has won the U.S. Presidential Volunteer Service Award and serves as the elected national secretary of the American Medical Student Association (AMSA). Naka was inspired to enter medicine by the doctor who visited her village in Albania. When her family moved to Hartford 10 years ago, Naka learned English and sought mentorship for a path to higher education through UConn Health’s high school outreach programs. She was awarded a full scholarship to attend the School of Medicine through UConn Health’s Health Careers Opportunity Program.

[Listen to Naka’s segment on WNPR]

“Scholarships have the power to transform lives and make dreams a reality for students like Fludiona Naka,” said Joshua R. Newton, president and CEO of the UConn Foundation. “We are grateful to alumni like Angelo DeFazio and others for their extraordinary generosity and investment in UConn’s students.”

Scholarships and fellowships assist students across UConn’s undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs. The average student loan debt at UConn for 2013 graduates was $24,600, nearly 20 percent lower than the national average ($30,000) for students at private and public institutions.

UConn recently announced plans to award $5,000 scholarships to students who enroll at UConn through the New Haven Promise and Hartford Promise programs, starting fall 2016. The Promise programs provide scholarship support and encouragement to students in New Haven and Hartford public and charter schools who earn strong academic records, maintain high attendance, and contribute public service in their communities.

 

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Students and Donors Celebrate the Impact of Scholarships

Grace Merritt
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Private Philanthropy Honored at first Transform Lives Event

Scholarship winners and donors came together to celebrate the power of scholarships to transform lives during a scholarship brunch at the UConn Alumni Center last week in Storrs.

As a student jazz trio played in the background, nearly 100 student-scholars and donors got to know each other over omelets and French toast. It was the first Transform Lives event held to thank donors and celebrate the achievements of the scholarship winners selected through the University’s enrollment management office.

Javante Danvers ’20, a freshman from Hartford, said UConn has always been her dream school and her scholarship was critical in allowing her to come here.

“Without my scholarship, UConn probably wouldn’t have been an option for me,” she said. “I would probably be going to community college. It’s really a key.”

Danvers, who is in UConn’s Honors Program, is happy with her choice. “I love it, every experience. The teachers are passionate. There’s a million clubs and so many things to do,” she said.

Many other students had similar stories of how their scholarships opened doors.

“It means I can actually attend college without having to sacrifice a large part of my future to pay back debt,” said Daimon Medina-Lopez ’18, a sophomore who is studying digital media and design.

Medina-Lopez was the class valedictorian at New Britain High School, which qualified him for UConn’s four-year, full-ride Presidential Scholarship. “It’s really the only reason I’m at school,” he said.

Camille Van Allen '17
Camille Van Allen ’17 (Credit: Defining Photo)

Student speaker Camille Van Allen ’17 told the crowd that her scholarship will allow her to study abroad in Capetown, South Africa, next fall in a unique program for nursing students.

“I’m an out-of-state student and my parents are sacrificing a lot to allow me to go here. This scholarship offers me a life-changing opportunity that I may not have been able to take otherwise,” said Van Allen, who is from Milton, Mass.

Wayne Locust, vice president for Enrollment Planning and Management, thanked the donors.

“We are extremely grateful to our alumni and our donors, who, as important members of our UConn family, are helping to make a difference in the lives of our students,” Locust said.

“To our scholarship recipients, we say to whom much is given much is required. You are required to ensure a return on investment,” he said.

He urged the students to be productive and successful in their chosen fields and to give back to the university for the next generation of scholars.

Dan Toscano '87
UConn Foundation Board Chair Dan Toscano ’87

Dan Toscano ’87, the new chairman of the UConn Foundation’s board of directors, spoke about his experience as both as a scholarship donor and student struggling to pay his tuition bill.

“I was shut out of my room for a month as a sophomore,” he said. “The door was slammed in my face and I was told, ‘You’re welcome back as soon as you pay your bill.’ I know what the struggle is like. I know it’s worth it. I’ve had an opportunity to take what I got here and put it into a career and a life that I’m proud of.”

Toscano, a successful executive at Morgan Stanley, thanked the students for choosing to come to UConn and for helping to make it a better school. He urged them to tell other promising students about UConn and the scholarships it offers.

The brunch comes as the UConn Foundation is in the midst of its Transform Lives initiative to raise $150 million for student scholarships.

Toscano said a scholarship is the best gift one can give to the University because it not only helps students, but helps the university by recruiting better students.

“Recruiting great students is one of the things that is really necessary for a great university,” he said.

“This is the number-one priority that we have. The university is only as good as its student body. Transforming lives is really what we set out to do,” he said.

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