Many college students may find themselves short of funds at times, perhaps calling their parents for a few bucks or dipping into their savings to cover unexpected expenses.
But for others who’ve come to UConn from other nations as international students or visiting scholars – especially from countries thrown into turmoil by war, famine, or political upheaval – having access to funds can never be taken for granted. In fact, crises in their homelands could easily derail their UConn experience altogether.
Deeply moved by the war in Ukraine and the vulnerable position that such upheavals create for people from conflict zones, two UConn alums whose friendship crosses six decades recently teamed to establish a philanthropic fund to help UConn students and visiting scholars affected by such crises.
Gary Gladstein ’66 (CLAS) ’08 (HON) and Myles Martel ’65 (CLAS), both of whom are strong supporters of UConn and involved in its Human Rights Institute, recently initiated and provided seed funding for the International Students, Scholars, and Refugee Fund at the UConn Foundation.
They hope it will grow with gifts from others who are as deeply moved by the issues as they have been, especially as the holiday season underscores the stability and family connections that many Americans enjoy – a stark contrast to the unpredictability and vulnerability that visiting scholars, students, and refugees from conflict zones can face every day.
“Myles and I decided that we wanted to seed this fund to provide students from Ukraine and other conflict zones a safe place and the opportunity for a wonderful UConn education,” Gladstein says. “We hope that they may use their education to help others who are experiencing conflict in Ukraine and other countries around the world.”
Gladstein and Martel have been friends and fraternity brothers since meeting at UConn in the early 1960s. Both have been generous to UConn with their time, expertise, and philanthropy in many areas, particularly those revolving around human rights, faculty support, and student scholarships.
“Two important pillars of our friendship are our love for UConn and our deep commitment to human rights, including our unflagging support for the people of Ukraine,” Martel says. “This scholarship aims to support students from conflict zones, particularly Ukraine, who, in this great hour of need for them and their country, could greatly benefit from a UConn education.”
Even while physically safe in the U.S. and in the UConn community, students and visiting scholars from conflict zones can find themselves in a precarious economic situation as they are cut off from the aid they use for housing, food, tuition, transportation, and other needs.
In fact, UConn President Radenka Maric experienced exactly that difficulty: She’d only recently started her master’s program at Kyoto University in Japan in the early 1990s when civil war tore apart her native Yugoslavia.
Living in another nation with a passport from a country that no longer existed, Maric was a young scholar, wife, and first-time mother with no way to access her scholarship or locate her parents as they were moved through refugee camps with her brother.
When she told her mentor of her plight, he withdrew $3,000 of his own money to pay for Maric to continue school – an experience that greatly shaped her views on philanthropy and mentorship, and helped keep her on the path to her career as one of the world’s preeminent scholars in clean energy technology.
Maric’s experience highlights the critical role that universities and caring faculty, mentors, and alumni such as Martel and Gladstein can play in providing stability and safe havens to people from conflict zones and creating pathways to higher education, such as through the new aid fund.
“Gary and Myles care so deeply about the people in Ukraine and people who are in war zones, and they along with their wives are amazing philanthropists and humanitarians,” Maric says. “They believe it is our responsibility as humans to lift up and support people who are in difficult circumstances, and they act with such empathy and compassion.”
Maric and Martel met recently at the Myles Martel Lecture in Leadership and Public Opinion in October, which focused on the violence and propaganda surrounding the Ukraine invasion. She said she was impressed not only by his commitment to human rights and the suffering of those in Ukraine, but also the fact that he and his wife, Leslie Shackleton Martel, brought about 20 other guests to the event.
“His commitment to raising awareness of these important matters is so wonderful,” Maric says.
She also praises Gladstein and his wife, Dr. Phyllis Gladstein, for their generosity in supporting human rights education and programming for more than two decades at UConn, including scholarships, endowed faculty chairs, and other gifts.
The new fund for students and visiting scholars from conflict zones builds on that already impressive legacy and Gladstein’s commitment to education as an equalizer and a path to opportunity.
“I’m truly honored to know him, and I admire everything he does to support his fellow Huskies and UConn – his values are UConn values,” Maric says of Gladstein.
UConn works closely with the international students and scholars who are attending the University on F1 and J1 visas, helping them navigate the transition and have the most rewarding academic and social experiences possible for themselves and their families while here.
But for many, the stress of war, famine, natural disasters, or political upheaval in their homeland and fear for loved ones can be immensely challenging, and facing added economic uncertainty can be overwhelming.
UConn has tried to help by nominating qualified students for emergency grants from the Institute for International Education (IIE), such as through its recent call for nominations of students facing financial hardship as a result of the floods and resulting economic impact in Pakistan or the economic crisis in Sri Lanka.
Kathryn Libal, director of the Human Rights Institute and an associate professor of social work and human rights, notes that UConn has a well-established record of supporting students, practitioners, and scholars displaced by war and political violence.
“The University is a long-standing member of the Scholars at Risk network and has provided visiting professorships to scholars impacted by war or persecution for nearly 15 years,” she says. “We are well-positioned to build on this experience to be more responsive to displaced student and scholar needs.”
The new International Students, Scholars, and Refugee Fund that Martel and Gladstein started with seed funding goes a step further by providing and distributing the aid locally, quickly, and in ways that will best help the specific needs of new and existing affected students and scholars.
For instance, some students may qualify for support to cover short-term or emergency needs such as tuition, fees, health insurance, books, transportation, or living expenses.
“UConn Global Affairs is very grateful to Gary and Myles for starting this fund. We ask that others will be inspired to join them during this holiday season and help increase our capacity to give,” says Daniel Weiner, UConn’s vice president for global affairs and professor of geography.
“The fund will have an immediate positive impact on our students and visiting scholars from conflict zones,” he added, “and every gift made will support members of our global community who are in need during a very difficult time for them and their families.”
The University of Connecticut and the UConn Foundation are grateful for the generous support they receive from Gary Gladstein and Myles Martel, and other supporters of the International Students, Scholars, and Refugee Fund.
Individuals or organizations interested in learning more about ways to support the initiative may do so through the UConn Foundation. Gifts to the fund may be deductible as a charitable contribution for federal income tax purposes.