Sara Blake, E21, grew up in Miami, where her father works in construction and her mother is a certified nurse’s aide. She loved the challenge of school, and college was “always a dream of mine,” she said. Yet she knew she’d need a lot of financial help to get there.
Fortunately, Blake’s academic excellence led her to Tufts, where that coveted college education was made affordable through a four-year Jeanne H. Diefenderfer Endowed Scholarship. She graduates next year with a degree in biomedical engineering.
“I am truly grateful for my scholarship because it opens up a whole world for me,” said Blake. “One thing I’ve learned about biomedicine is that there is still so much we don’t yet know. I’d love to help discover the answers.”
Blake’s story reflects the enormous importance of financial aid to young people who not only aspire to learn, but to be among the movers and doers in their chosen professions. Now a new initiative expands the university’s commitment to ensuring that financial circumstances don’t stand in the way of a Tufts education—for generations of students to come.
The Scholarship Challenge for Arts, Sciences, and Engineering is made possible by two couples who are Tufts parents. They have generously funded the $8.5 million challenge to stimulate another $8.5 million in new gifts for endowed scholarships.
Jed Nussbaum, A97, is one of many alumni, parents, and friends who have stepped up to make sure that challenge is met. His key incentive: to give others the opportunities he enjoyed. As he recounted, at Tufts he met classmates from all over the world and made lifelong friends. He spent a semester in Israel and learned leadership skills on what was then called the Student Senate. The quantitative economics major vividly recalls a class in jazz history, “which I loved,” he said. “All in all, I knew I was getting a great liberal arts education.”
So when he heard about the push for scholarships, “I thought, what a great idea,” he said. “I am a big believer in doing my part to help create equal opportunity for students to have the same amazing experience I enjoyed.”
Kaye Popofsky Kramer, J92, also credits Tufts with broadening her sense of the world and her own horizons, and she has a professional connection to its underlying values. She is the founder of Step Up Women’s Network, an LA-based nonprofit that provides networking, professional development, and teen empowerment programs. She also has supported the BLAST Program at Tufts (Bridge to Liberal Arts Success), a six-week summer program that eases the transition to college and provides continued support to participating students for all four years.
“Most of my professional life has been supporting underserved teens,” she said, “so when I was told about the Scholarship Challenge, it was a natural next step for me to want to be part of it and create new opportunities at Tufts. We don’t live in an equitable culture, and I believe the university needs resources to make sure everyone gets a chance.”
The challenge appealed to her desire to make a real and lasting difference where it’s critically needed. “I know I am having a tangible impact when my gift helps a student attend college without worrying about tuition,” she said.
The challenge is not the first time Tufts has redoubled efforts to strengthen financial aid. A Financial Aid Initiative was first created in 2012 by President Anthony P. Monaco (himself a benefactor of financial aid as an undergraduate). “Diversity drives excellence in our academic mission,” Monaco said as that initiative wrapped up. “Having students who come from different backgrounds with different perspectives enriches everyone in our community.”
Today the need for scholarships is even greater. The financial aid budget for undergraduates this academic year exceeded $96 million, a nine percent increase over the previous academic year. Thirty-seven percent of undergraduates received scholarships, and the average Tufts scholarship grant was $43,700.
“It’s deeply gratifying to have conversations with students about Tufts and to assure them that we have the financial resources to meet their full need because of continued donor support,” said Admissions Dean JT Duck. “You can see the weight lift from their shoulders.”
For both Nussbaum and Kramer, showing support for the Scholarship Challenge means they’re giving back to one of the most important influences on their young adult lives.
“When I was at Tufts, my cohort was a mix, both socioeconomically and racially diverse,” Kramer said. “That was one of the things I enjoyed about Tufts and one reason it remains a strong institution; it’s a global and diverse community.”
Nussbaum agrees, and added that the cost of higher education should not preclude a promising young student from attending Tufts. He is concerned about a “growing gap between haves and have-nots,” and sees the Scholarship Challenge as a bridge to opportunities that would otherwise be out of reach for some talented young people.
“This is my way of solving at least part of that problem,” he said. “The challenge is a way to look in the mirror and say, OK, I’m not going to just talk about income inequality or pull a lever for somebody in an election. I am doing my small part to contribute to equity and enable a great institution such as Tufts to open its doors to all deserving students.”
- The Scholarship Challenge began last fall after two couples, both Tufts parents, made gifts totaling $8.5 million to a challenge fund to increase the number of endowed scholarships available to undergraduates.
- The minimum gift to be matched is $50,000. Each gift will be matched, dollar-for-dollar, doubling its value and greatly expanding its benefit to future Jumbos.
- Gifts may be pledged for up to five years and applied to new or existing endowed scholarship funds.
- Act now to take advantage of this special opportunity to have an enduring impact on the life of Tufts undergraduates. Matching funds are available until they are depleted.
- Video interviews with scholarship recipients, including Sara Blake, may be found at go.tufts.edu/scholarshipchallenge.