Scholarly Thanks

Scholarship recipients gathered at the UM Fieldhouse on February 12 to show their heartfelt appreciation for the donors who have helped make their dream of a college education come true.

Coral Gables (February 21, 2013) — As a little girl, Lauren Vernon built elaborate contraptions out of K’Nex and Lego parts, scattering her creations all over her bedroom. In high school she studied the prevalence of E. coli in beach water and sand. It came as little surprise to her parents, then, that Vernon would become an engineer.

Today, with undergraduate and master’s degrees already earned in the field, Vernon is a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering at the University of Miami. She hopes her current studies on articular cartilage will lead to treatments one day that can stop the degradation process that leads to osteoarthritis.

Vernon’s highly advanced work would not have been possible without scholarship support, she says.

Such financial backing “is [vital] in allowing us to pursue our education,” Vernon told a roomful of people inside UM’s BankUnited Center Fieldhouse, where she and dozens of the school’s best and brightest scholarship recipients gathered on February 12 to show their heartfelt appreciation for the philanthropists who have helped make their dream of a college education come true.

With a guaranteed fellowship from the College of Engineering, Vernon has been able to conduct research and publish papers, often in close collaboration with top scientists from UM medical institutes and centers.

A Ronald A. Hammond Scholarship has helped UM junior Jasmine Holmes realize her dream of attending UM, she told donors. Calling herself a “pure blood ’Cane,” (her parents attended the University, meeting each other at freshman orientation), Holmes said she began applying for scholarships as early as middle school.

Retaining stellar students like Holmes from their freshman year through graduation is often a challenge because some of them lack the money to make it through four years of college, “even when you take into account the money that comes to them through University sources, the federal government, and the state government,” UM Provost Thomas J. LeBlanc said.

He said that students’ financial needs have increased dramatically because of the economic downturn and the scaling back of federal and state aid. But UM, he explained, has made progress over the past decade due to its ability, at least in part, to bridge the gap of financial need.

“Everyone is focused on the relatively high cost of college but they’re not seeing the dramatic increase in need on the part of our families and our students, and they’re not seeing the institution responding to that need through your generosity,” he told donors.

Among the philanthropists in attendance at the luncheon was UM trustee Wayne Chaplin, president and chief operating officer of Southern Wine & Spirits of America and a 1982 graduate of the School of Law. The Momentum2 campaign chair for the law school, Chaplin recently made a generous contribution to Miami Law to help offset the rising cost of legal education, creating a challenge grant that matches law scholarship donations.

“Scholarships are, by definition, among the most merit-based elements of an academic community like the University of Miami,” Chaplin said to the students. “All of you are here today because you’ve earned the right to be here with a heavy investment in study, the accumulation of knowledge, and the development of insight and expression of wisdom. Truly, there are few greater honors in academia than being a scholarship recipient.”

UM men’s basketball coach Jim Larranaga, whose team is in the midst of an unprecedented run in the ACC, surprised the audience by making an unscheduled visit at the luncheon, speaking to the audience about three of his players who have already graduated and are taking master’s courses, and two others who are on schedule to accept degrees this May.

“It wouldn’t be possible without donors,” Larranaga said.

Noting that she grew up in a working-class family, UM President Donna E. Shalala said that she would not have been able to attend a prestigious college had it not been for scholarships and fellowships. Nearly 80 percent of UM students need some type of financial assistance to attend the institution, and some of the University’s scholarship recipients are the first from the family to attend college, she noted.

She said scholarships have allowed UM to attract students of different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

“We want our students to go to school with young people from all over the world. We also want them to go to school with people who don’t come from the same backgrounds as they do,” Shalala explained. “We believe that this gives them the most brilliant kind of education because in the real world they’re going to have to negotiate and live with and understand people who do not come from the same background as they do…We’re not able to do that without a deep commitment to scholarships.”

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During the luncheon, President Shalala had students stand and take an oath that once they become successful, they will contribute to scholarship support so that future students could attend the University.

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