Gift boosts Honors Scholars to 75 for Fall


Reporter Contributor

Taking a monumental step that will change the lives of even more UB students, the anonymous donor who started UB's Distinguished Honors Scholars program has reached the $4 million mark with another donation of $800,000 to fully fund the education of academically gifted students.

The latest cash gift will allow the program to recruit approximately 20 students for the Fall 1998 freshman class, which means that with the Fall 1998 semester, there will be a total of 75 Distinguished Honors Scholars in all four undergraduate years.

The donor expressed the wish that this gift, and the previous $3.2 million, should not only fund the program, but should inspire others to give to the Honors Program.

"More students deserve this opportunity," said the donor. "I hope that others who share this belief in the value of a first-rate education will step forward and join me in supporting gifted students who might otherwise be unable to afford college."

That wish is coming true. In the past two months, approximately $400,000 in commitments to begin endowing the program has been received.

"This continued support for the Distinguished Honors Scholars is a strong confirmation that we are meeting the donor's wishes regarding the quality of students we invite into the program," said Clyde Herreid, academic director of the UB Honors Program.

"This continued generous support of UB's Honors Program is a great tribute to the excellent undergraduate scholars the program has produced," said President William R. Greiner.

Individuals in the latest group of Distinguished Honors Scholars, who enrolled at UB last fall, have a mean high-school average of 99 percent and a mean SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) score of 1518 out of 1600.

While the majority of Distinguished Honors students are from New York State, there also are students from Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Washington.

The donor's first gift of $1.6 million in 1995 created the Distinguished Honors Scholars program as part of the university's Honors Program. The donor's intent with the gift was to make the dream of a college education achievable for outstanding students facing financial pressures. The donated funds are used to cover all of their expenses-tuition, fees, books, personal expenses and transportation-and allow them to focus entirely on their studies. Another goal is to make UB a university of first choice for the most academically gifted students.

"We thank the donor not only for making all of this possible, but also for the positive effects the program has had on the students and faculty," said Herreid, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences.

"In much the same way that this exceedingly generous gift is serving as an example to other donors, the quality of students we are able to attract also has a 'halo effect.' As word spreads about the extraordinary scholarships the donor has made available and the tremendous educational experience we offer, we are seeing a greater number of top students applying to and attending UB."

UB's Honors Program was created in 1981 to provide academically gifted students with the highest level of scholarship and personal attention associated with a small college, while making available to them the full resources of a major research university. Since its creation, the program has grown from 21 students to 450 students. Approximately 675 students have graduated as honors scholars from UB since 1985.

"Graduates of the program bring great pride to UB," said Greiner. "Their success in graduate and professional study, as well as their career success, show just how important this investment in academic excellence is. We are immensely grateful for the donations that have made this program possible."

It's the classic story of American opportunity.

Eight years ago, a boy and his family left behind the chaos and deprivations of post-Soviet-Union Moscow for a new life in America. They settled in Albany, where the father joined the mathematics faculty at a local university.

The boy, Alex Stessin, worked hard to adjust to his new life. He worked especially hard at school and excelled.

By the time he was ready to graduate from high school and was applying to colleges, he had 15 schools across the country vying for him, each offering some type of scholarship package. Alex narrowed his choices to two: Williams College and the University at Buffalo.

"My initial visit to UB and the Honors Program moved UB right to the top of my list," said Stessin.

But there were financial worries lurking in the background no matter which school he chose. Stessin knew that his family would go into debt to pay for his education, and that he would have to work part-time. Then came word that he had received a Distinguished Honors Scholarship at UB.

"We were shocked, surprised, happy-all of the above," said the UB sophomore. "It was not only welcome because it was an incredible relief of a major financial burden, but also because it came from a school with a good reputation that I wanted to attend."

Now a double major in biology and English, Stessin loves the work he is doing at UB. He is especially enthusiastic about biology. Herreid, his mentor, is guiding Alex toward the student's ultimate goal: attending UB's medical school.

Toward that end, Stessin is working in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in the Department of Biophysics as part of a research team investigating retina cells. The work could ultimately influence the early detection of glaucoma.

"The impact of this gift, and I know this is a cliché, but it has changed my life. That's completely true," said Alex. "The experiences I've had at UB and the opportunities I've been given are because of the donor's generosity. I'm getting everything I expected from college and more. It's exceeded my expectations."

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