Local businessman's $300,000 gift funds graduate student fellowship and building project at UCSC

Local businessman Ramesh Bhojwani has always believed in two things: Education for the young, and medical care for the old.

Bhojwani, who retired last year, is thankful to be at a point in his life where he can act on his beliefs, devoting himself fulltime to charitable endeavors. His latest $300,000 gift includes $200,000 to establish the Bhojwani Family Endowed Graduate Fellowship at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The fellowship will provide financial support to students who are the first in their family to attend graduate school. The balance will go toward construction of the new University Center at UCSC, slated for completion next winter.

"I've worked for money all my life, but I've told my children that most of my money will go to charity," said Bhojwani, who has also recently purchased and delivered cataract treatment systems to five hospitals in India. "My father always told me, 'Son, you're only a custodian for this money. You have to give it back.'"

At UCSC, Bhojwani's generosity will help first-generation graduate students who demonstrate financial need. "If a student wants to go further and do graduate work, we should be encouraging them, don't you think? It's not easy to get degrees," said Bhojwani, whose own college education was cut short after two years when he went to work in the import-export business. He still considers going back to school and has helped each of his own three children earn college degrees.

Bhojwani's gift will help UCSC pursue its goal of developing stellar graduate programs, said Chancellor M.R.C. Greenwood, who has identified graduate education as a priority for the campus.

"This wonderful gift provides a much-needed boost toward UCSC's goal of fostering superb graduate programs and research innovations," said Greenwood. "And it supports our campus priorities of increasing access and opportunity for tomorrow's leaders."

Bhojwani, owner of the former Holiday Inn on Ocean Street leased by UCSC to provide student housing, credits his business savvy with enabling him to retire last year at the age of 59, but he attributes his appreciation of the value of education to his father, who died when Bhojwani was 12 years old. The dining room at the new UCSC University Center will be named in honor of Bhojwani's father, Hemandas Doulatram Bhojwani.

From a young age, hardship taught Bhojwani a great deal about life, he said. "I was the youngest of 12 children, and when you're number 12, you're not a priority for anybody. You had to move fast when food was on the table," he recalled with a laugh. When Bhojwani was 12, the family was part of a large migration of Hindus from Sind province, now part of Pakistan, to India. They settled in Bombay. At the age of 18, Bhojwani moved to the United Kingdom, where he established a successful business. He emigrated to the United States in 1979 at the age of 37. His wife and children joined him in 1986.

"I've been told I'm the classic case of pulling myself up by my bootstraps from the streets of Bombay," said Bhojwani. "I guess that's true."