Alumni Week to highlight three decades of alumni-sponsored student support

The founders of the Alumni Association Scholarship Fund are using the occasion of its 30th anniversary to increase philanthropic support in the scholarship, setting a goal of raising $100,000 from alumni

Alumni Association Scholarship recipient Michelle Pichardo Munoz (College Nine ’22) says she uses the scholarship to help with necessities like groceries and the cost of her commute from her home in San Jose to campus.

Alumnus Steven Jung, pictured, cofounded the fund with fellow alumni Rob Sawyer and Marnie Bodek.

Alumna Corinne Kappeler, the current chair of the Alumni Association Scholarship Fund, decided to help with the endeavor because she appreciated the scholarships she received as a student.

One of the most exciting things about the UC Santa Cruz Alumni Association Scholarship is that it comes as a surprise.

Unlike with most scholarships, which require students to fill out applications, the Alumni Association Scholarship is chosen from names provided by the university’s Financial Aid Office. 

Around the winter holidays, the recipients learn that they will be receiving $3,000 a year for up to four years until they finish their degree.

“When I heard about the scholarship, it was a relief,” said Michelle Pichardo Munoz (College Nine ’22).

Munoz, who is studying applied physics and pure mathematics, said she doesn’t get family financial support and had to work two to three jobs as a community college student to save enough money to transfer to UC Santa Cruz. She uses the scholarship to help with necessities like groceries and the cost of her commute from her home in San Jose to campus. 

Now celebrating its 30th anniversary, the Alumni Association Scholarship Fund has distributed $1.86 million to 788 students since it began. Sixty-five percent have come from historically underrepresented backgrounds. Last year alone, the fund provided scholarships to 41 students. 

The fund's 30-year anniversary will be recognized and celebrated at the Cheers to 30 Years! Alumni Reception & Reunion during this year's Alumni Week, April 19–24.

Steven Jung (Stevenson ’78, politics) cofounded the fund with fellow alumni Rob Sawyer (Porter '72, music) and Marnie Bodek (Cowell '74, environmental studies/environmental design), with an initial goal of trying to raise $10,000–$15,000. They were thrilled to be able to give out a handful of small scholarships that first year. 

With encouragement from alumni, they decided to keep going. 

“It slowly took off and began growing and growing,” Jung said. 

Over the years, Jung stepped down from the board and moved on to other endeavors while continuing to donate to the scholarship fund. He recently decided to come back when he saw that donations to the scholarship fund were dropping off.

In the past, the fund raised money at in-person student reunions. But during the pandemic, that faded away, and so did many donations. Jung and others started to worry about the future of the scholarship. 

He thought the fund’s 30th anniversary would be a good time to get the excitement going again and increase philanthropic support. 

“This is an important program to revitalize,” Jung said. “Every UCSC student is eligible for the scholarship—not just students from one college or one major. It’s open to the entire UC Santa Cruz student body based on financial need.” 

Jung hopes more alumni will consider making regular annual donations to the fund. This year, the fund has set a goal of raising $100,000 from alumni. 

Volunteers from the Alumni Association read over the applications provided by the Financial Aid Office. The volunteers look for students who stand out in four criteria: resilience (ability to overcome difficult circumstances); commitment to service (contributions to community); initiative (leadership qualities); and thirst for knowledge (excitement for educational opportunity).

One student is also selected each year for the Eric Thomas Memorial Award, named in honor of the beloved former Alumni Association president who died suddenly in 2004. Thomas (Oakes '85, economics) was always available to help others, whether that was students, fellow alumni, or others associated with the university. Michelle Pichardo Munoz, mentioned earlier, received the award because of her volunteer tutoring work at her community college. 

Scholarship winners also get access to a free experiential leadership program put on by the university. It gives the students a chance to develop their professional leadership skills. 

Corinne Kappeler (Kresge ’11, sociology), the current chair of the Alumni Association Scholarship Fund, decided to help with the endeavor because she appreciated the scholarships she received as a student. 

While she didn’t get this particular scholarship, she did receive other aid. The youngest of five children, she was the first in her family to go to college and needed all the financial aid she could get. 

“I don’t think I would have been able to attend otherwise,” she said. 

Kappeler, who grew up in Salinas, remembers her joy at learning about the university. 

“I was blown away by UC Santa Cruz because of the beauty of the campus, the alternative spirit,” she said. “The rich history of building and fostering a community of critical thinkers really spoke to me.”

She wants to help other students have that same experience. A nice benefit of helping with the Alumni Association Scholarship Fund is that participating alumni also have the opportunity to serve as mentors to the students. They are encouraged to help scholarship recipients navigate their college careers, offer coaching in speaking and other skills, and more. 

Kappeler said alumni will be impressed when they take the time to learn about the scholarship recipients. 

“Every one of these students is really impressive,” she said. “It’s gratifying that we are able to play a small part in their success.”