Features, University News

Ten years in, Sidney Frank legacy endures in scholarship

Scholars program funded by $100 million donation supports low-income students

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 30, 2014

“I write you with extraordinary news,” began a September 2004 email to the Brown community from then-President Ruth Simmons.

Sidney E. Frank ’42 had made a $100 million donation — the largest in University history — to establish the Sidney E. Frank Endowed Scholarship Fund. The fund provides scholarships to students from low-income families, allowing them to graduate without student loan debt.

The first group of Sidney Frank Scholars graduated in the class of 2009. Now, there are approximately 130 scholars enrolled on campus in a given year, said Maitrayee Bhattacharyya, associate dean of the College for diversity programs, who manages programming for the Sidney Frank Scholars Program.

The program, 10 years old this month, has helped several classes of students, evolving to strengthen the scholar community and expand the resources available to its members.

‘One to be admired’

A Connecticut native, Frank was a member of the class of 1942, but financial difficulties forced him to leave Brown after his first year. He eventually found great success in the business world, marketing Jagermeister Liqueur and Grey Goose Vodka.

“I know from my own experience what a difference Brown can make in a young person’s life,” Frank was quoted as saying in Simmons’ email. “I’ve wanted to help more students find what I found — especially students who figured Brown was out of reach financially.”

“In spite of the fact he couldn’t attend for three more years, he wasn’t spiteful,” said Taran Raghuram ’14, a former Sidney Frank Scholars Association coordinator. “His story is really one to be admired.”

“Brown opened so many doors for me, and I was able to have so many opportunities that I couldn’t have even imagined were available,” said Jessica Feng ’12, also a former SFSA coordinator and now a medical student at the University of Massachusetts. “To be able to be part of (Frank’s) legacy is an extraordinary privilege.”

Frank died in 2006, but his legacy at Brown lives on through the scholarship fund and the Sidney Frank Hall for Life Sciences, a building for which Frank donated $20 million. He was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in 2005.

The scholarship fund “assisted Brown in continuing its commitment to need-blind admissions,” said Jim Tilton, director of financial aid. Brown had commenced a need-blind domestic first-year admission policy prior to Frank’s donation,, “but $100 million helps,” he added.

When deciding which students will receive the Sidney Frank Scholarship, “we’re looking first at the low-income parameter, but then we are expanding upon that,” said Erica Cummins, assistant director of financial aid and the financial aid liaison for Sidney Frank Scholars. “We really try to look for a student that has surpassed some difficult circumstances throughout their lifetime.”

“These are young people who have really done amazing things to get here,” Tilton said.

For their first year, Sidney Frank Scholars have a work scholarship, rather than a work-study component, Cummins said, which is a unique feature of the program. In addition, if scholars elect to study abroad, their work-study component for the semester they are away will be covered by a University scholarship.

 

Opening doors

Feng was initially “so excited” when she was admitted to Brown, she said, but the thrill was followed by “this anticipation of and almost fear of perhaps disappointment because so much of my ability to attend Brown would depend on” financial aid. Upon seeing her cost of attendance, Feng was “completely surprised in the most wonderful way.”

“I had never heard of the Sidney Frank Scholarship because it’s not something you apply for — it’s something the financial aid office decides,” she said. “But I knew right away that ‘now I can go to Brown.’ That was a huge moment for me and for my family as well.”

Other scholarship recipients described being initially unsure of what it meant to be a Sidney Frank Scholar.

“When I … understood that it’s not just a named scholarship but a built-in support network that starts supporting you your first year at college, it was really meaningful,” said Destin Sisemore ’15.

Raghuram said he was already “overwhelmed” at finding out he had been accepted to Brown before he looked at his financial aid award. “I didn’t know what (being a Sidney Frank Scholar) meant at the time,” Raghuram said. When he discovered that his financial aid award did not include a work-study program for the first year, he said, he realized that “this was something special, this was not normal.”

Like Sisemore, Floripa Olguin ’16 expressed appreciation for the resources available to Sidney Frank Scholars. “Learning more about the program, learning more about what it means to be a Sidney Frank Scholar I think really helped in forming my own identity here at Brown,” she said.

 

Creating community

When Bhattacharyya fisrt began working with the program, she said, the only event programming was a reception for new scholars. After soliciting feedback from students, organizers crafted a more elaborate calendar of events, including a peer orientation program and a peer mentorship program called “Frank Buddies.”

Sisemore has been a mentor for the past two years. “I’ve met some great underclassmen through that arrangement and hopefully been able to help them navigate some of the things they’ve gone through,” he said.

Olguin was drawn to becoming an SFSA coordinator in part because of the positive mentorship experience she had as an underclassman. “I knew some upperclassmen who really helped develop my time at Brown and gave me lots of guidance I have been very thankful for,” she said.

Feng said she noticed tremendous growth in the program just during her four years at Brown. Now there are many more “opportunities for student leadership, for Sidney Frank Scholars to get involved, which I think is tremendous,” she said.

Sidney Frank Scholar events are sometimes held in partnership with the first-generation students initiative, the CareerLAB and the Science Center. There are also occasional opportunities to meet members of the Frank family, which “always means a lot to scholars,” Feng said. Frank’s daughter Cathy Frank Halstead meets with the scholars yearly and will come to campus next month.

“Frank Chats” take place multiple times a year. The group discussions and social gatherings serve as an opportunity for scholars to have open conversations or take a study break. The chats focus on “connecting the scholars to resources on campus, raising awareness of opportunities available” and community-building, Bhattacharyya said.

With the program’s growth, scholars have developed “a real sense of community” as resources have expanded and the program has gained recognition around campus, Tilton said.

“There’s a strong core group of scholars who show up to most of the events,” Sisemore said. “Every time I walk into a Frank Chat, it’s like a safe space” as well as a social one, he added.

“Some of my closest friends at Brown I met at the Sidney Frank peer orientation, and some of the most valuable pieces of advice I’ve had at Brown were from Sidney Frank mentors,” Olguin said.

Some scholars also said there is a greater sense of group identity now that there are multiple generations of Sidney Frank Scholars.

Last year, Sidney Frank Scholars had special stoles at commencement. The stoles were red and emblazoned with the Brown and Sidney Frank Scholars logos, Bhattacharyya said.

“The scholars take great pride in being scholars,” she said. “I saw a real excitement and enthusiasm at this past commencement.”

Raghuram said he was “absolutely stoked” to wear his stole at commencement. “We’re super grateful to this organization for what they’ve done for us, and we’re proud to show it.”

Last year, the first class of Sidney Frank Scholars celebrated its fifth reunion. Members were invited back to campus to celebrate with graduating seniors, and they received stoles as well, Bhattacharyya said.

As the alum community grows, “to whatever extent the scholars and alums want to be a part of a network, (I want to) facilitate that,” Bhattacharyya said. “I get a sense from current scholars that they appreciate connecting with alums.”

 

Looking forward 

Both Olguin and Raghuram said they see room for improvement in several areas of the scholarship program, but the weaker features align with issues the University as a whole could address, they indicated.

“Having more discussion surrounding class and how social mobility affects students would probably be a great addition to the program,” Olguin said. “That was what I gained from a lot of informal discussions with older mentors, but it hasn’t been a formal part of the program.”

It “reflects Brown University as a whole in terms of the need to discuss class more,” she added.

“While all the supports from the Sidney Frank Association are really amazing, I think reinforced academic support would be extremely helpful to the organization,” Raghuram said, as “there’s always the initial shock of your first course in college. … This isn’t really a question about Sidney Frank, it’s a question about Brown in general.”

Still, the program was “more than I expected,” Raghuram said.

Sisemore said he would like to see more career advising through the Sidney Frank Scholars program. Already “there is some career preparation involved” in programming during the year, but the transition from being a college student to thinking about success beyond college is significant, he said.

“There’s a lot less conversation about what a first-generation student and students from low-income backgrounds do after they graduate,” he said, adding that he is working to strengthen the connection between the Sidney Frank Scholars Program and the CareerLAB. “Not because we don’t have resources in place for that, but just because I think that transition requires a lot more resources.”

 

Mutual benefit

The Sidney Frank Scholars Program logo is a multicolored rising sun. The sun represents “a bold people,” and is reminiscent of the “infinite possibilities we carry with us into Brown and beyond,” Paul Tran ’14 wrote in the designer notes.

Several scholars expressed gratitude for the scholarship and the accompanying resources, and administrators lauded the benefit of the increased diversity the scholarship facilitates.

“The Sidney Frank Scholarship has helped Brown with its commitment to diversity on campus, both ethnic diversity and socioeconomic diversity,” Tilton said.

When he first arrived at Brown, Raghuram said, he felt “immense gratitude” for the scholarship. “On top of (the financial assistance), you have this network, this organization, Dean Bhattacharyya, all these resources on top of what Brown’s already given you to help with the transition.”

“Pride is definitely a prominent feeling now having spent four years in the program,” he said.

“We are all here as Sidney Frank Scholars, and whatever diverse backgrounds we come from, there’s some common threads.”

The scholarship has “enabled my time at Brown,” Sisemore said. “It’s been an empowering experience for me and one that can only get stronger.”

“We as a community really benefit from the amazing young people who come to Brown, who are able to come to Brown as a result of the scholarship,” Bhattacharyya said.

When scholars leave Brown, they enter into a variety of fields and make a far-reaching impact on the world, Feng said. “One man’s generosity is affecting so many lives,” she added. “Not only ours by giving us the opportunity to attend this fantastic school and receive a great education, but also what we’re going to do with our Brown education.”

“Sidney Frank will have a hand in so many people’s lives, both directly and indirectly,” she said.