Fundraising for financial aid a key priority
By Kathy Andrews
As Trinity College prepares to enter its third century, it has achieved significant progress in recent years on a key financial aid priority set forth in Trinity’s strategic plan, Summit, says Vice President for College Advancement Michael Casey. As included in Summit, the college will “attract and retain the highest caliber of students” by building financial aid resources to be used strategically “to attract and support a high-quality and engaged student body that embraces a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives.”
Since 2015, Trinity has increased its financial aid budget by 60 percent, enabling the college to enroll an increasingly broad array of talented students. To keep building on this momentum, and to continue supporting Trinity’s commitment to open its doors to all deserving students regardless of their financial situation, Casey notes, “a vital element of the college’s $500 million comprehensive fundraising campaign—now in its leadership phase—is to raise a minimum of $100 million in gifts to expand the college’s financial aid endowment.” As of December 2022, more than $55 million toward that $100 million goal has been reached.
The Trinity Reporter checked in with some of the individuals who are committed to advocating for Trinity’s ambitious financial aid goals and to welcoming exceptional students from around the country and across the globe. We also spoke with a few of the many students for whom financial aid and scholarships have been transformative.
THE POWER OF FINANCIAL AID AND SCHOLARSHIPS
“I care deeply about educational equality, which is access to education,” says Trinity Trustee Kelli Harrington Tomlinson ’94 of Atherton, California. “I think education is a great equalizer, but it can’t be a great equalizer unless a student has access to that education.”
As a member of Trinity’s Financial Aid Campaign Committee, Tomlinson, who majored in political science and minored in performing arts, says she and her fellow committee volunteers recognize that financial aid and scholarships are powerful in many ways and that different donors are motivated to support financial aid for different reasons.
“We know that many bright, motivated students do not have the ability to pay full tuition and can only consider Trinity if their financial needs are met,” says Tomlinson. “Also, as Trinity has increased its financial aid resources, we have seen the academic quality of our student body grow stronger and stronger. We have the data showing the correlation between the investment in financial aid and the growth in the strength of our classes. And that’s been echoed by members of the faculty, who describe the greater levels of intellectual engagement and discourse they’ve seen in their classrooms.”
In her role as founder and co-president of the Tomlinson Family Foundation, Tomlinson focuses on the nonprofit sector. A member of Trinity’s Board of Trustees since 2019, she also serves on the board of Challenge Success, a nonprofit affiliated with the Stanford University Graduate School of Education. Previously, she was a board member and board chair of The Girls’ Middle School, a STEM-focused girls’ school in Palo Alto.
Along with husband Steffan C. Tomlinson ’94, Tomlinson recently established a Trinity scholarship fund, with the first three scholars—all Hartford residents—named in fall 2022: Nanci Lopez Flores ’23, majoring in political science and urban studies; Maria Vicuna ’24, majoring in educational studies; and Phoe Shui Se ’25, who intends to major in neuroscience.
“My and Steffan’s giving to support financial aid and scholarships both at Trinity and in California has focused on allowing access to some of the best schools to students who otherwise couldn’t afford it, especially those who live within the community surrounding the school,” says Tomlinson. “What especially resonates for me is the gift of education and trying to do well by the school, in terms of its needs and goals with that gift.”
‘THE BEST THING THAT’S EVER HAPPENED’
Economics major Stan Cardona Toledo ’23 believes strongly in the extent to which one person’s encouragement and support can change another person’s outlook and future prospects.
Growing up in New York City, Cardona Toledo experienced a childhood of intermittent homelessness. At age 15, he moved to Connecticut and began attending Bristol Central High School. He sought new opportunities, which led to being accepted into a paid summer youth employment program that Tim Walsh ’85, P’15, who grew up in Bristol, had established with the local United Way.
Cardona Toledo also worked in Hartford at Journey Home, an organization striving to end homelessness, and he became involved in the Boys & Girls Club of Bristol. In 2019, he was recognized as the club’s Youth of the Year, which led to him doing public speaking on behalf of the club during his senior year of high school.
Cardona Toledo remembers when Walsh came to speak with the teens participating in the summer employment program. Walsh shared how financial aid helped him enroll at Trinity, where he had an amazing experience, majored in economics, and went on to a successful career in private equity. “He’s been inspirational for me,” Cardona Toledo says of Walsh, a member of Trinity’s Financial Aid Campaign Committee and a former Trinity trustee, who established, along with wife Mary Casner Walsh, a scholarship fund that supports Cardona Toledo’s education.
“I don’t know where I’d be without Trinity—it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” says Cardona Toledo. “Before my senior year of high school, I didn’t plan on college.”
Adds Cardona Toledo, who works in Trinity’s Advancement Office, “I fully appreciate what it means when donors like Mr. Walsh support the next generation of students—it takes away a huge burden and allows students to experience the kind of positive impact a Trinity education has on people.”
FOSTERING A SENSE OF BELONGING
“From my vantage point, the more access we have to financial aid resources, the better and more relevant and powerful Trinity becomes,” says Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Matthew Hyde, who joined Trinity in July 2022 from Lafayette College.
“Creating access and opportunity for students from all different backgrounds—culturally, ethnically, and socioeconomically—is key, and so is being able to foster a sense of belonging,” says Hyde. “It’s challenging for students on significant levels of financial aid to truly feel like they belong, when others don’t need to think twice about accessing funds if someone says, ‘Hey let’s go out to dinner,’ or ‘Let’s go on this trip.’ For a number of students, additional resources make the difference between surviving and thriving at college.
“Trinity is fortunate to have a broad spectrum of scholarship opportunities bringing exceptional students to our campus,” continues Hyde. “Donors such as the Borges family, which contributed $10 million to provide financial aid resources for outstanding students, allow us to maximize our ability to craft communities with as much dimension, diversity, and talent as possible.” [The Borges family’s gift was featured in the spring 2022 Trinity Reporter.]
Hyde notes that Trinity has benefited from the generosity of numerous Trinity alumni, families, and friends who have created or donated toward scholarships, such as those that bring Illinois Scholars and Class of 1963 Scholars to campus year after year. “We’re also proud to be part of the world-famous Davis United World College (UWC) Scholars Program, through which high-achieving international students come to Trinity,” he says. Recognizing the value Davis UWC Scholars bring, Trinity has made concerted efforts in recent years to grow its participation. Between 2010 and 2022, 40 Davis UWC Scholars have graduated from Trinity, and the number of these scholars at Trinity has increased markedly in recent years. For the 2022–23 academic year, 78 Davis UWC Scholars are studying at Trinity.
FOLLOWING ONE’S ASPIRATIONS
For Anahit Avagyan ’24, it was a challenge to explain to others in her home country her keen interest in studying computer science. “In Armenia, computer science is seen as a man’s job,” she says. “So, when I was 16 and mentioned computer science to my friend, she asked, ‘Do your parents know about this?’ And when I told my grandma, she responded, ‘But you’re a girl, how can you imagine doing computer science?’ ”
Fortunately, Avagyan’s parents encouraged her to follow her aspirations. She was accepted into the Davis UWC Scholars Program and attended the UWC Dilijan College in Armenia, along with hundreds of international students from around the globe. “If I didn’t receive financial aid, if I didn’t get the Davis UWC Scholarship, my family was not going to be able to support me financially to study at Trinity, my dream college. If I had to stay in Armenia, maybe computer science would not have been my path,” she says.
Due to the pandemic, her first Trinity semester was conducted online, and she says she always will remember participating in classes from Armenia, including “Introduction to Computer Science” with Professor of Computer Science Peter Yoon. “I fell in love with the course, and Professor Yoon was wonderful,” says Avagyan. “I would stay up until 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. just trying to solve a problem. Every time, I would say, ‘Mom, do you know what happened? I just solved this problem!’ ”
In spring 2021, Avagyan arrived on campus and took a course on data structures and algorithms with Associate Professor of Computer Science Ewa Syta. “She’s been a great support. As she is interested in cybersecurity, we talked about it, and I became interested, too,” says Avagyan, who served as Syta’s teaching assistant and was recommended by her for two internships. “The first was at Trinity, working on enrolling multifactor authentication for the whole student body,” says Avagyan. Then, Hybrid Pathways, the IT company working with Trinity on the project, offered Avagyan a summer internship at its downtown Hartford office. “If you look at the numbers,” she says, “there are very few women in cybersecurity, so I was excited to work with this company.”
Adds Avagyan, “I think seeing female professors in STEM fields like Professor Syta and President Berger-Sweeney . . . you understand that if they can do it as women, and they have this courage, they have this strength—then you can do it as well.”
A GAME-CHANGING INITIATIVE
In September 2022, Trinity and the Schuler Education Foundation announced that Trinity is among five colleges selected for the second year of the Schuler Access Initiative. This matching grant partnership promises to raise $60 million to support high-achieving, low-income students enrolling at Trinity—a significant opportunity to enroll a greater number of exceptionally talented, largely first-generation, students, regardless of their financial circumstances.
“We have the capacity to make a fundamental difference in the lives of these amazing students and in the lives of everyone who interacts with them,” says Trinity President Joanne Berger-Sweeney. “By capitalizing on this rare opportunity, we will make Trinity stronger and ultimately serve the public good.”
The Schuler Foundation will contribute $20 million for current financial aid, to be spent over 10 years, that Trinity will match by raising $40 million in permanent endowment both for financial aid and for academic and co-curricular programs to support the participating students. The program will focus on students with the highest financial need, those eligible for Pell grants, and undocumented students.
As Henry Chavez ’18 noted upon the announcement of Trinity’s receipt of the Schuler grant, “Financial aid is important because it gives you the opportunity to say, ‘I can knock on that door and see what’s behind there.’ ” Chavez, who came to the United States from El Salvador when he was 2, double majored in political science and urban studies at Trinity and now works as a senior performance agency manager at Google. “I would tell the Schuler Foundation . . . thank you,” says Chavez. “Thank you for believing in students who come from very different walks of life, that there are people out there who see and recognize the unique set of challenges that they have and who are committed to developing them to be the leaders of tomorrow.”
Says Casey, “This is a game-changer. Leveraging the generosity of Trinity donors, the Schuler grant will substantially expand opportunities for talented low-income students, and this will benefit our entire campus community for generations to come.”
THE NET RESULT
“Trinity’s financial aid goals and all of the strategies we’re employing to meet these goals are about opening our doors as widely as possible,” says Casey. “The Schuler Access Initiative focuses on talented students who have the greatest need. The Davis UWC Scholarship Program is bringing fabulous international students to Trinity. The Borges family’s gift will provide support for a wide range of exceptional students and ensure that others can benefit from the same kind of life-changing educations they received. The Walshes are making sure that terrific students from Bristol, where Tim grew up, can join our community, while the Tomlinsons are giving opportunities to students from our own backyard here in Hartford. There are more examples, of course, but the net result of all of these efforts is that we are able to enroll incredibly talented and diverse—in every way—students who can best take advantage of the remarkable education that Trinity offers.”
For more information about financial aid giving opportunities, please contact Caitlin Gasiorski, campaign director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 860-297-2406.
View the video featuring Henry Chavez ’18 below.
For more on Trinity’s commitment to financial aid, please visit https://www.trincoll.edu/admissions/finaid/
FINANCIAL AID CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE MEMBERS
William E. Cunningham Jr. ’87, P’19, ’21
Henry Mallari-D’Auria ’83
Thomas L. Safran ’67
David L. Schnadig ’86
Kelli Harrington Tomlinson ’94
Timothy J. Walsh ’85, P’15