'Nothing Like Being Here'

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Kappa Sigma Fraternity Scholarship recipient Joojo Ocran '17 shakes hands with David Haag '73, one of the Kappa Sigma alumni supporting the scholarship. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Annual Scholarship Luncheon celebrates donors' far-reaching impact

by Matt Getty

Dickinson's annual Scholarship Luncheon recently gathered nearly 250 donors and scholarship recipients to celebrate the far-reaching impact of scholarship support at the college. In addition to giving donors a chance to meet the students they support, the event featured speeches from scholarship recipient Joojo Ocran '17 and Riis Gonzales, president & CEO of the Sandia Foundation, which has provided nearly $40 million in tuition assistance on behalf of class of 1908 members Hugh and Helen Woodward.

"This is one of the most important and heartfelt events that we host every year," said interim President Neil Weissman, who kicked off the luncheon. "The continued excellence and the increased breadth and diversity of our student body have all been made possible by the people in this room—the scholarship donors who support the important work that we do."

Jim Chambers

John Robert Paul Brock Scholarship recipient Samantha Miller '18 embraces Jim Chambers '78, who established the Brock scholarship with his wife, Niecy, and recently gave the college an additional $1 million gift to support the scholarship and other priorities. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

As donors lunched with the students they support, Gonzales highlighted the impact that the Woodwards have made on generations of Dickinsonians since establishing the Sandia Foundation in 1948. After meeting at Dickinson, marrying and then relocating to New Mexico when Helen fell ill with tuberculosis, he explained, the Woodwards established the foundation to support Dickinson, the University of New Mexico and several nonprofits in New Mexico.

"The couple believed that education was the most important attribute a person could possess," said Gonzales. "That vision ... stems from the culture created here at Dickinson." Acting on that vision, he explained, the Woodwards established permanently endowed funding that has grown over the years to now provide $1.6 million annually to scholarships at Dickinson.


Riis Gonzales (left), president & CEO of the Sandia Foundation, chats with Woodward Scholarship recipients (from left) Ashir Borah ’19, Naviya Kafle ’17, Simona Bajgai ’20 and Jun Kyu Lee ’18 outside the luncheon. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Noting that the Woodwards "set up this foundation to ensure that it exists forever," Gonzales also said that the Sandia Foundation is working to continue to grow the fund so it can provide additional scholarships to assist even more Dickinsonians in the future. To illustrate the true power of the Woodward's legacy, Gonzales then asked all the students present to stand. 

"This is our future," he told attendees. "The world is in your hands. ... We know you're going to change this world."

Following Gonzales's comments, one of those students shared exactly how Dickinson and the scholarship support he received has positioned him to do that. An international business & management and French & Francophone studies double major who's already landed a job with a company working to expand internet access to underserved populations, Ocran described how scholarship donors made it possible for him to accomplish his dreams at Dickinson.

Contrasting Dickinson's personalized liberal-arts experience with the education he could have gotten at a large state school or through online classes, Ocran recalled how a currency crisis in his home country of Ghana devastated his family's college savings and almost robbed him of that experience during his sophomore year. But thanks to the Kappa Sigma Scholarship and financial aid, he was able to remain at the college and continue to benefit from the personalized education that defines the Dickinson experience.

"If I went to a large state school ... as student number 1738, I probably would not be able to interact with my professors at a basketball game, or meet them for lunch, or make an appointment with them when I really needed a point of clarification," he explained after thanking David Haag '73, who was at the luncheon to represent the alumni who support the Kappa Sigma Scholarship. "Everyone here has given me the keys and let me in, and that is what makes Dickinson great."


The personalized experience Ocran was able to get at Dickinson included a class discussion with Zach Leverenz ’01, who founded EveryoneOn, where Ocran will be working after graduating this spring. However, as he noted in his closing comments, working to expand internet access isn't the only way Ocran plans to impact the future.  

"We must leave a legacy," he said. "The legacy I choose to leave behind is to give to Dickinson, specifically to scholarships. I give to scholarships because I would not have been able to attend this school for four years without the assistance of parents and alums who cared enough about students like me to donate. And so to them, to all of you, I'm eternally grateful. To the students and the future alums in the room, it's on us to become the reason why other students with potential have the opportunity to reach Dickinson.  ... There's nothing like being here, at Dickinson ... Let us spread our wings to soar, but let us not forget the platform from which we take off."

Margee Ensign

Dickinson's President-elect Margee Ensign visited campus for the event to meet some of the donors and scholars. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

The event also included performances by the college jazz combo Garden Party and comments from Vice President of College Advancement Kirk Swenson, who introduced Gonzales and underscored the value of the Woodwards' giving to Dickinson. "It would be difficult to overstate what the impact of that support has been," he said. "The Woodwards, through the Sandia Foundation, are the most generous and most prolific philanthropists in the history of the college."

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Published May 17, 2017