‘A habit of giving back’: Phanstiel scholarship program affects first round of middle class students
Bailey Marks had almost given up hope on going to Syracuse University. But only a few days before she had to mail her deposit to the State University of New York at Fredonia, Marks received an email from SU that changed her decision.
‘I got the email that said, ‘Your financial aid package has changed.’ And I was just sitting there and my heart started beating faster and I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness what is this about?” said Marks, one of the first ten recipients of SU’s Phanstiel scholarship. ‘And I sat there for a couple minutes and thought, ‘Wow, I can actually go here.”
Announced last October, the Howard and Louise Phanstiel Scholars Program provides assistance to students from middle-class backgrounds who show academic strength and a desire to give back. The program is the result of a $20 million gift from Howard ‘Howie’ Phanstiel, a 1970 undergraduate and 1971 graduate and trustee, and his wife, Louise. The scholarship reward varies depending on the financial situation, but it is enough to change a decision, the couple said.
In 2008, the Phanstiels were on campus and noticed a concern among administrators that students would not return after the recession. In spring 2010, the Phanstiels presented their idea for the scholarship program to Thomas Walsh, executive vice president for advancement and external affairs, and Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, associate vice president for enrollment management and director of scholarships and student aid at SU. After that, plans for the program moved quickly.
‘Giving back and helping the institutions and people who helped us along the way is very important to us,’ Howie Phanstiel said.
Since 2008, Copeland-Morgan said the financial aid office has seen an increased number of students in need of financial assistance. A record number of students have applied to SU, and many of those apply from low- and middle-income backgrounds. If families are seeing college tuition — but not wages — rise, there is going to be a need, she said.
Marks, now a freshman majoring in Spanish and public relations, said she wanted to go to SU, but wasn’t willing to see her family take on the monetary obligation. Her father is an English teacher and her mother is a social worker, and both are also helping her brother through college. Marks still needed to take out loans, but ultimately, the scholarship made attending her first-choice school a reality.
‘Really, it was what made the difference for us. She was headed to a state school until that scholarship came in just days before we had to send the check in,’ said Jon Marks, her father. ‘That really made it for us, we’re awfully grateful.’
The Phanstiels’ gift is among a small group of scholarships aimed at middle-class students. In 2009, Purdue University introduced a program, which is given to students from Indiana households with incomes of $40,000 to $100,000. In September, the University of Oregon announced the Mary Corrigan and Richard Solari Scholarship, available to Oregonian students also caught in the middle.
But Copeland-Morgan said she has not heard of one quite like the Phanstiel’s gift, which emphasizes philanthropy and stipulates scholars to enroll in the financial literacy program, participate in an annual lecture series on giving back and submit a one-page statement about the philanthropic efforts with which they are involved.
‘I think it’s absolutely wonderful that Howie and Louise went beyond just giving money, they could have done that, but it reflects a deeper sense of responsibility and a deeper sense of caring,’ Copeland-Morgan said.
SU has an institutional budget of $180 million in financial aid money and a total budget, which includes federal loans and grants, of $450 million, Copeland-Morgan said. More than 80 percent of students receive some sort of financial aid and about two-thirds of the students at SU receive scholarship or grant assistance from SU.
For Howie Phanstiel, who came from a middle-class background and had to work through college, and Louise Phasntiel, who took night classes until she graduated at 27, giving a gift was not to only help students attend their dream school, but also to make the most of the experience, they said.
‘For students who have to work a certain number of hours, they’re going to miss out on the total university experience,’ Howie Phanstiel said.
The couple was on campus at the start of the semester and met the scholars, who they described as diverse and energetic about giving back to their own communities and now Syracuse.
Copeland-Morgan said she is most impressed with the amount of work the scholars have already done in the community.
‘No one person was doing one thing,’ she said. ‘When you read their bios, it’s a habit of giving back. It’s almost if they have to be engaged in service in one way or another.’
Throughout high school, Katie Arts, of West Palm Beach, Fla., balanced her love of the arts with community service. She danced and volunteered at the Norton Museum of Art and the Sandoway House Nature Center. When it came to applying to college, she said she also applied for financial aid and scholarships. She said it looked like she would be going to a state school in Florida given her economic background.
‘It’s that middle ground where people kind of forget about you,’ Arts said.
Arts, now a freshman art photography major, said she was honored to be selected for the program.
‘I’m amazed at how small the group of people is,’ Arts said, adding she’s still surprised she was selected to such an intimate scholarship program.
‘But I’m still grateful that they did.’
Adrienne Marcino, of Sparta, N.J., heard about the scholarship, but did not imagine it to be so selective, either.
‘I thought it was a broader, much broader program,’ said Marcino, who was a member of the lacrosse team and the student newspaper in high school and also involved in volunteering through her church. As the eldest of four, Marcino said the gift was the final push for Syracuse.
Now that she has come to SU and met everyone involved in the program, Marcino said she has a feeling of security. Each scholar will be paired with a student mentor from SU’s Student Philanthropy Council and also has contact with the Council of Mentors, a group comprised of different leaders from offices on campus.
The network of guidance available — from the Phanstiels to the mentors on campus — has been the best part of the program so far for Marks, the freshman Spanish and public relations major.
‘They’re so helpful, and they just really want all of the Phanstiel Scholars to succeed in whatever they do at Syracuse,’ Marks said.
In many ways, this is a test year for the program, and SU officials have said there may be some tweaks to how the program operates, the number of scholars or functions of the mentor groups.
Walsh said his hope for the program is that the scholars will begin to break out and become leaders of philanthropy on campus. He said he would like to see the scholars continue to help each other and future incoming scholars.
The gift is now part of SU’s endowment, meaning it will grow and always be available, Copeland-Morgan said. Although the program and the number of scholars may change, the money will continue to go toward helping students’ futures.
‘It will always go on,’ Copeland-Morgan said. ‘There will always be Phanstiel Scholars.’
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