Taking Care of Our Own
Published Jul 1, 2014 8:00 AM
For almost 80 years, UCLA graduates have made a financial commitment to those who would follow them.
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Consider the stories of two bruins:
The first emigrated to the U.S. with her family to escape extreme political oppression, including the very real threat of imprisonment and death. Her new home was a short drive from UCLA, and she knew that education was crucial to fulfilling her dreams of building a new life.
The second was a California girl, born and raised in Santa Barbara. Her parents founded a start-up devoted to finding treatments for people with central nervous system disorders, like Alzheimer's disease. She had her choice of top-tier universities with notable medical programs.
Nearly seven decades separate their time at UCLA, but the stories of Anne Stern Berkovitz '47, J.D. '80 fleeing Nazi Germany and Rashi Singh '14 choosing UCLA over Johns Hopkins and UC Berkeley are tied together by their UCLA Alumni Scholarships.
In 1936, while the U.S. still struggled with the Great Depression, UCLA graduates made a financial commitment to those who would follow them. They bestowed two UCLA Alumni Scholarships of $150 each — approximately equivalent to $12,000 today — and launched the UCLA Alumni Association's oldest continuous program.
"The 58 dollars I got my freshman year didn't make a big difference," Berkovitz recalled at a 2006 celebration, "but getting the scholarship was still a glorious thing." It helped spark a lifelong practice of giving back in Berkovitz, a longtime member of Gold Shield, Alumnae of UCLA.
For Singh, the award was key to her decision, but part of a larger picture. "I like how close the medical school is [to the hospital] at UCLA; it makes it easier to gain practical experience," she says. "I knew my scholarship would help my parents' finances, but it also gave me access to the Alumni Scholars Club (ASC), which has shaped me into a leader." Singh ended her undergraduate career as ASC president.
Jacquelean Gilliam, executive director of the UCLA Office of Scholarships, says financial incentives like Alumni Scholarships — with awards ranging from $4,000 to $20,000, guaranteed over four years — are more critical than ever before, particularly considering the unprecedented tuition increases in recent years. Gifts of any size from alumni help UCLA compete against the lucrative packages other schools offer to top students like Singh. Recently, Alumni Scholarships expanded its focus from California to the nation, a change made possible by more than 600 alumni volunteers, as well as generous donors like Sally Kay '83.
"To mentor brilliant students, help them to network and move forward along their path, this is the most rewarding for me," says Kay, who endowed a scholarship. "To be part of shaping the future of these scholars — there is no amount of money to quantify what that's worth."
It's rare for a scholarship winner to develop a mentor/mentee relationship with a benefactor — and maybe even a friendship.
Yet that's exactly what's offered to students who receive scholarships from Gold Shield, Alumnae of UCLA. The 140-plus members of Gold Shield are predominantly alumnae, so they understand the challenges of being a UCLA student.
"I'm now with my 10th scholar since starting [the Valerie Wallad Maisner Award] in 2004," says Val Maisner '59, who currently mentors four undergraduates. "I love spending time with each of them and watching them mature from wide-eyed, bushy-tailed freshmen into confident and sophisticated young adults. They renew my faith in the next generation."
Maisner invites her scholars to lunch and to off-campus events, such as visits to the L.A. Zoo or to the Huntington Library and Gardens. Last year, she started an annual reunion of her past and present scholars.
"Val is an outgoing and caring individual who is always looking out for the best for us scholars, never afraid to go out of her way to make a connection that may help us out," says Roger Pardo '12, now a graduate student at USC. "Simply put, Val is much more than a mentor — she's a true friend."
Karolynne Gee '56 has the challenging job of mentoring Gold Shield's three graduate scholars, whose busy schedules make regular contact difficult, at best. "They know I'm interested, but respectful of their time and privacy," Gee says. "When they get ready to complete their theses, I usually email or call and wish them well. In a few cases, I may have contacts they can call upon."
Kate Viernes, a graduate student in Asian-American studies and social welfare, remembers how warmly Gee welcomed her to UCLA. "She has sent kind words of encouragement on the writing of my master's thesis and has also offered mutual support throughout the year," Viernes says.
With scholarship endowments totaling nearly $2 million, Gold Shield annually provides $115,000 in student scholarships, ranging from $4,000 to $20,000. The group has funded more than 700 scholarships since 1939.
Perhaps the greatest tribute to Gold Shield was the establishment of the Toy Family Award in 2010. Created by former Gold Shield scholars Brian Toy '95 and his sister, Michelle '98 — who still keeps in touch with her mentor, Pat Hardwick '52 — the award funds a $1,000 freshman alumni scholarship in perpetuity.
"We are investing in the next generation, just as Gold Shield invested in us," Brian says. "We hope that someday these alumni scholars will produce great dividends so that they, too, can pay it forward to the next generation."
—Wendy Soderburg '82