Honoring a legacy: Memorial scholarship empowers students making an impact

Josh Alper Scholarship pays tribute to late alum

Josh Alper was an artist, a cyclist, a musician, and dedicated community member. The Josh Alper Scholarship was established at UC Santa Cruz in memory of Josh, an alumnus and former Library staff member, by his parents Ted and Marsha Alper.
Bryant Miguel aka Rip Florence (Merrill ’24, sociology) is an artist, collaborator, connector, and community builder. Miguel is a recipient of the Josh Alper Scholarship.

Bryant Miguel aka Rip Florence is an artist, collaborator, connector, and community builder. A self-proclaimed outsider singer-songwriter, Miguel curates a Santa Cruz-based DIY record label, Shallow Dive Records, that shares the sounds of marginalized local artists.

“The project is a series of individual recording sessions that will be translated into a vinyl compilation record of local music,” says Miguel (Merrill ’24, sociology). “But it has the potential to dig so much deeper—creating an impetus for deeper collaboration, communication, friendships, and prioritization of community over the self.”

This dedication to strengthening community and serving others contributed to Miguel’s selection as a Josh Alper Scholarship award recipient—an award that celebrates UC Santa Cruz students who demonstrate an independent DIY spirit, inspire others by being inclusive and community-minded, and bring people together for a cause, purpose, or fun.

The scholarship was established at UC Santa Cruz in memory of Josh Alper, an alumnus and former Library staff member, by his parents Ted and Marsha Alper. It is awarded to students with financial need who—as Josh did—volunteer and make an impact in the community. 

Josh was an artist, a cyclist, a musician, and dedicated community member. He was killed in a bicycle accident in November 2013 at the age of 40. He would have celebrated his 50th birthday this October.

“Josh was a good person, a generous person,” his father Ted Alper shares. “He cared deeply for others. I am so glad his name lives on [through the scholarship].”

UC Santa Cruz Librarian, Elizabeth Cowell, agrees. 

“Josh embodied UCSC—he engaged fully in the campus community and the Santa Cruz community in really positive and creative ways,” Cowell says. “And the scholarship recipients always seem to embody a lot of what Josh cared about. To see his legacy carry on is really impactful. The students learn about him and really do care. They carry his memory and his ethos forward.” 

Inspiring Futures

Kahena Wilhite (Stevenson ’24, Anthropology and Arabic) was drawn to UC Santa Cruz for the university’s beauty and outdoor activities as well as its spirit of social justice and community. An artist, musician and community leader, Wilhite is inspired to have been selected as a Josh Alper Scholarship recipient.

“The scholarship supports people like me who want to do things out of pure love for the arts and community but may not necessarily have that opportunity,” Wilhite says. “I think about Josh a lot and I think about what he might have been like. I love that he is being acknowledged for his creativity and his spirit because that's not necessarily something that's always highlighted.”

The cross cultural component of the scholarship particularly resonates with Wilhite. Throughout her studies and her love for languages, she has connected with many cultural backgrounds on campus. She speaks three foreign languages and is learning Arabic, giving her the opportunity to get to know people despite differences. 

Wilhite is currently applying to Master’s programs in Europe and the UC System to further her education in environmental studies or global development. Ultimately she’d like to work for USAID or the UN in order to work abroad.

Wilhite’s father passed away while she was in high school. She says she has kept his spirit alive by doing things that he loved, and is inspired how the scholarship is doing the same for Josh and his dad.

“I hope he [Ted] knows that we are keeping Josh’s spirit alive through this scholarship.”

Community Matters

Mery Ter-Avetisyan (Stevenson ’25, psychology) grew up in a large Armenian community, with a strong support system and people to lean on. This background and her love for community are what drew her to UC Santa Cruz.

“I love meeting new people and bringing people together, and I love the energy that forms from people sharing common interests and passions and talking about all the things that they can accomplish together,” Ter-Avetisyan says.

Like Josh, Ter-Avetisyan is an avid cyclist and is deeply involved with the local Santa Cruz biking community. She also helps coordinate clothing swaps and food coops where students can get healthy, affordable food. 

Following graduation, Ter-Avetisyan hopes to immerse herself in travel and culture. She has used part of her scholarship funds to obtain her scuba diving certification, which has been a lifetime goal. She’s unclear on her future plans, but conversations with Ted Alper have helped. 

“He’s been such a big support for me,” she says. “He knows so much about psychology, he’s given me books to read, and grant information. He’s just been so helpful. I feel fortunate to have this connection. This [scholarship] is just an incredible thing and it feels really good to be a part of.”

Building for the future

The Josh Alper scholarship is a beautiful tribute to a very special individual. Since its inception, the scholarship has been awarded to more than 40 UC Santa Cruz students. The community that has grown among the scholarship recipients, the university, and Ted Alper reflects Josh’s spirit of kindness and collaboration. Ted Alper has helped ensure that community will continue to grow.

Following Marsha’s death, Ted Alper put the Josh Alper Scholarship in his will, which—when it is realized—will add proceeds from his Palo Alto home. Noting the value of the house has multiplied many times since he bought it, Ted says he hopes that others will realize that appreciated real estate and other property creates opportunities to help people.

“This is a way I can ensure that a cause I care very deeply about will continue,” Ted says.

And while the scholarship also ensures that Josh’s legacy will live on, it’s clear that he left an indelible mark at UC Santa Cruz: “Josh was an avid cyclist. I ride my bike to campus almost every day,” UC Santa Cruz Librarian, Elizabeth Cowell says. “And there's a whiteboard in our bike room that says, ‘Thinking about you, Josh.’ I want Ted to know: We still feel him, he’s here with us, we miss him every day.”