Helping Students Dive Deeper
One day in psychology professor Bob Cook’s class on cognition, Carie Fowler Antonelli, A05, found herself in a heated debate with fellow students over an experiment from the 1920s. The experiment, by German psychologist Wolfgang Kohler, had shown that chimpanzees would stack boxes and climb them to reach bananas. Kohler interpreted the behavior as a sign of intelligence, but Antonelli disagreed—she saw it as simple conditioning. “And Bob just looked at me and said, ‘You can do it. You can research this answer,’” said Antonelli, who supports the Tufts Summer Scholars research program together with her brother, Jed Fowler, A02.
She did just that, working in Cook’s lab during her junior and senior years to reproduce Kohler’s study with pigeons. “To get to run my own experiments, present my findings at conferences, and have such an established mentor was amazing,” said Antonelli, who wrote her senior thesis on this research. “I felt I got to dive so much deeper.”
The lessons she learned working with Cook, now the dean of the Tufts Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, have always stayed with Antonelli, and recently inspired her to join Fowler in making a four-year gift supporting two Summer Scholars per year. The merit-based Summer Scholars program funds rising juniors and seniors as they work on 10-week independent research projects in any discipline with faculty mentors, then present their projects at a conference and a symposium. “I hope our gift allows undergrads to dive deeper into areas they might not have access to through their regular coursework,” said Antonelli, who now lives in her native Seattle and is an owner and member of the board of directors at the construction supply company H.D. Fowler Company.
For his part, Fowler hopes to help students gain confidence, as Tufts did for him. “I was a shy nerd in high school, and Tufts was the right amount of pushing my boundaries while still being in a safe place,” he said. “It exposed me to a wide variety of things, and I want to give back so the next generation has similar opportunities.” Now president of H.D. Fowler Company, Fowler has given to Tufts consistently since graduating and is a member of the Charles Tufts Society. “As a young alumnus, I remember what it’s like to be in college, to have that uncertainty and passion, and to be searching,” he said. “I love being able to help, and to read the letters our Summer Scholars send me.”
Asked why she and her brother made their gift together, Antonelli laughed. “It never occurred to me not to,” she said. During the year they overlapped at Tufts, Fowler made brownies from their mother’s recipe for his sister’s volleyball team and cheered at her games with his friends. He took Antonelli off campus for weekly dinners marked by nonstop chatter, laughter, and the famous Fowler family sarcasm. “For a freshman 3,000 miles from home, it was a wonderful support and a great joy,” Antonelli said.
Their family has always been close—and always committed to philanthropy. Family members all sit down at the end of each year to talk about where they’re making gifts. “It’s really interesting to hear what organizations everyone feels passionate about,” Antonelli said. She and her brother have supported a local theater group, a women and family’s shelter where Antonelli is a board member, and—of course—their alma mater. “Tufts is a shared adoration,” Antonelli said.
Supporting the Summer Scholars has allowed the siblings to express that adoration. “It doesn’t take as much as you think,” Antonelli said, and the rewards are great. “It’s been a way to feel we can make a difference, by significantly shifting one student’s experience at a time.”
For both Antonelli and Fowler, giving to Tufts as relatively recent graduates has made their philanthropic experience even richer, and connects them to campus despite living in the Pacific Northwest. “I know some of the people who will benefit. My professors and coaches are still there, which increases the value tenfold,” Antonelli said. “That’s something I would miss if I waited until I was older.”
Fowler agrees. As a Charles Tufts Society member, he has already stated his intention to include Tufts in his estate plan. “It was something I wanted to commit to before the chaos of the ‘real world’ fogged it over,” he said. “I want to continue to make Tufts accessible to all.”