Investing in Tomorrow’s Leaders
Susan Solomon, J65, J94P, and her daughter, Laura Rebell-Gross, J94, make time to talk almost every day, despite their busy lives dedicated to public service in New York. They even have a two-person “book club.”
“If we can do anything together, we like to,” said Rebell-Gross.
So when it came time to give back to their alma mater, they knew they wanted to join forces to strengthen financial aid for Tisch Scholars for Civic Life, a leadership development program offered by the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life.
“I was extremely impressed by the program—it’s not something I’ve seen at other universities,” Solomon said. “As Tufts competes for the best and brightest diverse students, this program is key to attracting them. It’s a wonderfully crafted program and, frankly, I wish it had existed when I was there.”
The three-year program accepts about 20 students annually and spans academic coursework on social issues, fieldwork in local communities, skill-building workshops on subjects like public speaking and political engagement, as well as opportunities to gather for critical reflection.
Recognizing the program’s considerable time commitment, Solomon and Rebell-Gross are funding expanded stipends that make the program more accessible to students with financial need. Those students often must focus on work-study jobs that help defray college expenses. But increased access to financial aid now means they can afford to take advantage of this unique opportunity to hone their leadership skills.
Over the years, student projects have included working on a composting initiative and mobile farmer’s market in Somerville; strengthening the childcare network in Boston’s Chinatown; and expanding college access for Navajo students.
In a time of extreme political polarization, “civic engagement can be very unappealing to young people,” said Rebell-Gross. “Designing a program like this not only engages students but also partners with the community to show students the difference they can make.”
Growing up during the civil rights movement, Solomon recalls her mother taking her to support Black performers who were banned from certain venues, inspiring Solomon to fight discrimination and injustice through sit-ins around Washington, D.C.
She was further inspired by the civic involvement exemplified by teachers and students at Tufts, and she joined the Peace Corps in its earliest years, serving in Sierra Leone upon graduation.
Since then, she has forged a life committed to philanthropic and civic involvement, especially in New York City. After 9/11, she headed Safe Horizon, the largest victim assistance program in the United States, and was responsible for dispersing $180 million to people who lost family members, as well as jobs or housing, in the attack.
Solomon passed on her passion for service to Rebell-Gross, who followed in her footsteps at Tufts. “I loved majoring in English like my mom and also double majored in women’s studies, which got me involved in feminist politics and advocacy for LGBTQ rights,” Rebell-Gross said.
She’s dedicated her career to educational equity, first as a public school teacher and now as the senior managing director of the Girls’ Education National Team at the Student Leadership Network, which opens and supports all-girls public schools across the country.
“My goal for these Tisch Scholars is the same as the students at our schools,” she says. “I want them to understand that their voice and leadership matter, even at 18, 19, 20—they are the next generation of leaders. If the world is going to change, they’re going to be the ones to change it.”