UConn’s Neag School of Education held its annual Scholarship Celebration on Oct. 6 to commemorate students’ academic achievements and the generosity of donors who have financially enabled those students to continue pursuing higher education. Students shared personal stories and expressed gratitude for their scholarships and the individuals playing an instrumental role in helping them achieve their academic and professional goals.
The ceremony featured a video of several students expressing how important these scholarships are to them and a slideshow that included quotes from every student recipient as a token of their thanks to the donors for their help funding their education and ambitions.
Other highlights of the ceremony included a musical performance by music education students Pio Castellano and Mary McGovern, and a special appearance by Jonathan XIV, who recently celebrated his 10th birthday.
The ceremony was hosted by Dean Jason G. Irizarry, who began the celebration by highlighting the exceptional impact of these scholarships in shaping the next generation of educators and students.
“All of us, regardless of our life’s path, were positively influenced by a teacher, a coach, or the educational institution we attended,” he said. “Just think where we’d be if that teacher, coach, or professor never became who they are. The ripple effect of supporting Neag School students cannot be understated.”
In the 2022-2023 academic year, the Neag School supported 379 students with over $452,000 in scholarship aid. That aid is only possible due to the donors who contribute to more than 60 named scholarships that help turn Neag School students’ dreams into reality.
Collaboration is Key
Omar Romandia, a doctoral student in educational leadership, was one of this year’s scholarship recipients who expressed gratitude for the donors and passion for his field at the event. Romandia is a recipient of the Richard L. and Kristen E. Schwab Fellowship Fund.
Romandia reflected on his educational journey, having moved from Arizona to UConn at the height of the pandemic in 2020, not knowing anyone. Romandia shared that, although this experience was jarring, it taught him the power of collaboration and that we cannot accomplish things alone.
“Despite those obstacles, I carried lots of hope and plans to create positive change at UConn,” he said.
Romandia attributes much of his success to all the educators from grade school through college that propelled him to where he is today: researching policies affecting higher education access among minority students at a top research institution.
Do what you love, and the necessary resources will follow. — Omar Romandia
Romandia also noted his role in the domino effect of education, reflecting on his time working as a leader of a college preparatory program at a community college in Arizona. Through this role, Romandia saw his students, many of whom were first-generation students, graduate from university and continue their studies through graduate programs.
“I’ll leave everyone with a quote that has served me well over the years and is one that I like to share with my students, ‘do what you love, and the necessary resources will follow,’” he said.
Transitioning From Online Learning to Hands-On Experience
Lance Parlow, an undergraduate student in the Neag School’s sport management program, is the recipient of the Professor Emeritus William M. and Marjorie Serveido Scholarship and the Steven J. Smith Scholarship Fund.
Parlow shared how COVID-19 also caused a rocky start to his college career, as he only took online classes and struggled to decide what he wanted to pursue as a career. Parlow credits the hands-on approach of the sport management program and the guidance of the faculty for solidifying his decision to attend law school upon graduation.
“These scholarships are a physical representation of the hard work and dedication I have prided myself on during my time at UConn,” Parlow said. “They also serve as a reminder that if you do the right thing and truly put in the effort to succeed, you will be rewarded. Your generosity inspires me to continue to push forward and strive for success.”
Passing the Torch
UConn alumna Irene Makiaris, CEO of Makiaris Media and one of the Neag School’s strongest advocates, attended the celebration and shared what the scholarship bearing her name, the Irene P. and Emanuel A. Makiaris Scholarship, established 12 years ago, means to her and her family.
The Irene P. and Emanuel A. Makiaris Scholarship supports Neag School students preparing to be teachers through either the Integrated Bachelor’s/Master’s Program or the Teacher Certification Program for College Graduates.
Makiaris’s father immigrated to the United States having only received a sixth grade education but stressed and understood the importance of a college education for all his children. As such, the scholarship was created in his honor.
“He told us many times that ‘if you have an education, it can never be taken away. You will always have it — unlike material things,’” Makiaris said.
“We believe that teaching and teachers are the most important components of a formal education,” she continued. “Without teachers, we would not have lawyers, doctors, accountants, nurses, plumbers, electricians, and engineers. This is why we chose to sponsor a scholarship at the Neag School of Education — to help students become highly skilled teachers with skills to impact children’s minds and the world. My father’s desire to have his children educated is also our passion, and we hope to spread it beyond our family.”
We believe that teaching and teachers are the most important components of a formal education. — Irene Makiaris
Makiaris shared that all her scholarship recipients have what she calls “fire in their belly,” as they are passionate and unwavering about their future in education. This year’s recipient of the Irene P. and Emanuel A. Makiaris Scholarship, Alexia Reyes, has that very “fire” that Makiaris spoke of.
Reyes is enrolled in the Teacher Certification Program for College Graduates (TCPCG), majoring in special education. She recently began her internship at the Environmental Sciences Magnet School at Mary Hooker in Hartford this fall, working with second and third grade students.
Reyes is grateful for the Makiaris family and their generosity, allowing her to follow her dreams of becoming a special education teacher.
“This scholarship means everything to me,” she said. “It has lessened the financial burden of working and going to school. I wasn’t even sure if I could go to this program because of financial issues, so the fact that I got this scholarship means the world. Hearing Irene’s speech about her father just gave me goosebumps because now I want to do better for everyone. Irene is so incredibly passionate about what she does, and I keep telling her, ‘I’m going to make you proud.’ ”
Access a recording of the event, view photos from the event, view a slideshow of student testimonials, or view a video of student scholarship recipients. To learn more about supporting the Neag School of Education, visit education.uconn.edu/giving-to-neag.