The distance between the University of Connecticut in Storrs and New York City is only about 140 miles, a fairly quick drive. But sometimes it seems as though the two locations are on different planets. The UConn Alumni Association – New York City Chapter is working to close that gap, through networking, activities, and, most recently, the creation of a named scholarship fund.
The UConn NYC Alumni Chapter Scholarship Fund, the first established by an out-of-state chapter, supports UConn students with demonstrated academic achievement, financial need, and who live in one of the five boroughs of New York City.
The story of the fund’s creation, and the growth of the chapter itself, centers on a particularly driven core group of alumni who felt that the lack of connection between the University and the city hampers both. In just a few years, they have become one of the most active and structured association chapters, hosting events for the 20,000 UConn alumni in the city and surrounding regions.
“Even though we’re so close, New York firms do not, in general, go to Storrs to recruit,” says Jon Pedersen ’93, a board member of the chapter and CFO of SNAP Interactive. “However, there are many alumni who come to New York looking for jobs or to network. What we’d ultimately like is a bigger pipeline to and from the University. Through our scholarship, we can create awareness of the University here, give opportunities for kids to look at UConn who wouldn’t have otherwise, and help recruit alumni to work in the city.”
The notion of creating an endowed fund for the chapter sprang, in part, from an alumnus who traveled even further to attend UConn. Christophe Pane MBA ’05 arrived in Storrs from his native France, and now is the senior consultant at Pöyry Management Consulting.
“I had received a graduate fellowship to come to UConn and felt that I had a need to give something back as a way of saying thanks. Giving back personally, whether in terms of time, money, or experience, was my primary motivation at first,” Pane says. “But as this fund has grown, it’s become a classic and inspiring case of how alumni can come together.”
After several years of growth and increased networking, the core group of city-based alumni soon heard the philanthropic vision of incoming UConn President Susan Herbst, who regularly cites the need to dramatically grow the University’s small endowment. The effort to create an endowed fund in the chapter’s name became established, and took on even more emphasis through the support of Lucille Protas, a UConn parent.
Protas, who previously contributed to the University to make up the difference between her son’s UConn tuition and that of her daughter’s private school, heard of the chapter, met with members, and came away impressed by their commitment to the University. She pledged a gift to match donations made to the scholarship fund by the leadership and officers of the NYC chapter. In short order, more than $50,000 was raised.
“The alumni showed a commitment and loyalty to UConn that was so powerful,” says Protas. “It reminded me of what I see in my own son. Matthew loves UConn, and being there has changed his life. The more I listened, the more I heard the alumni talking about how UConn changed their own lives and set them well-positioned for the future. From what I can see among my son’s friends, that’s the type of student who goes to UConn. They are humble and driven. And, in my opinion, the city is dying for talent that doesn’t come with a sense of entitlement.”
The chapter retains its focus not on fundraising, but on the type of activities that make an alumni association so powerful: networking, advising current students, mentoring, and coming together to celebrate Husky Pride. But the fund, and the collaboration that came together to create it, has galvanized the group.
“We’re thrilled and proud of what we have accomplished so far,” Pedersen says. “To build an endowed fund was something we’d hoped to do in a matter of years, not months. And then Lucille just inspired us, just as we have come away impressed with President Herbst and the way she views things. There’s an energy around UConn today that is both focused and exciting.”
To support the UConn NYC Alumni Chapter Scholarship Fund, please visit the Alumni Association’s online giving page.