Going to college is all about making connections — to professors, mentors and new friends. The Sun Devil Family Association has created a new kind of connection, as scholarship winners get to meet the “angels” who helped pay for their tuition to Arizona State University.
“I think what ASU does with education is superior, and I want to make sure that every child has a chance to get an education. It’s important to me,” said Junette West, a donor who met the student she funded on Monday.
West shook hands and posed for photographs with freshman Jesse Nguyen, who admitted to being a little nervous about meeting and thanking his benefactor.
“This person made my college career,” he said. “She is my extra step to becoming closer to being a doctor and getting that dream job.
“I’m planning to major in biological sciences, but I’ve heard that freshmen change their majors a lot,” Nguyen told West, who is an accountant for a real-estate company in Phoenix.
Nguyen, who is from Phoenix and went to Notre Dame Prep in Scottsdale, said he chose ASU because he wanted to be in Barrett, the Honors College.
“And it’s not too far from my family, who I know will try to reach out to me every other day.”
Nguyen is the third student that West has funded through the Sun Devil Family Association, a part of the ASU Foundation for a New American University, a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to raising resources to advance ASU.
The two met at a breakfast the association held for all 55 of its scholarship winners this year. Five of those winners were funded by “angels," who can meet their students informally or at association events throughout the year.
Each Sun Devil Family Association scholarship winner receives $5,000 and is selected based on financial need, academic achievement and community service, and most have faced special circumstances, such as being the first in their family to attend college or being in the foster-care system. The association also provides recipients with a support system, community-service activities and social events.
West said she received a similar scholarship years ago when she attended what was then Grand Canyon College, now Grand Canyon University.
“This is so much fun because the idea behind it is that the student has a face to go with the scholarship,” which forges a more personal bond, West said. “They then will want to give back, and it will develop philanthropy in them.”
West has two sons who graduated with engineering degrees from ASU.
“They’re both working in their fields and doing well, and I’m excited about that,” she said. “I started working with SDFA when my oldest son was a freshman, and I stayed involved even though my kids aren’t here now because I believe in helping students like Jesse get the education they deserve.”
Steve Murow, another "angel," knows what it’s like to struggle. He started college in the 1970s but had to drop out after a few years when his father died and his mother became seriously ill.
“I had no money. There was no angel to help. No emergency loan to be had. No family association to rescue me. No scholarship program,” said Murow, who described how he was able to stretch one box of macaroni and cheese over three days.
Now the owner of a construction consulting company, he received his degree in California last year. He joined the association in 2005, when his son was a freshman at ASU.
“It’s weird being called an angel when I’m the one blessed,” said Murow, whose donations benefitted a student who is now a senior studying aerospace engineering.
The scholarship winners had a chance to share their gratitude at the event. Megan Dalton, a nursing major, has received the Sun Devil Family Association scholarship three times.
“I remember when I was a senior in high school and I got the email that I got the scholarship and I walked outside my classroom and I was so ecstatic that I did a happy dance and was screaming in the hallway,” she said. “And every time I’ve gotten that email, it never changes. One thing that does change is how inspired I am to reach my goals, and that’s because of you guys.”
James Deibler, a public service and public policy major, is a transfer student and wants to work with people who have disabilities after he graduates.
“I have autism, and I am trying to overcome it by graduating from ASU like I graduated from Glendale Community College,” Deibler told the room full of people.
“I currently work at Basha’s and at the University of Phoenix Stadium to raise money for college. Without the support of the scholarship, I would not be able to go to ASU.”
Campaign ASU 2020 is rallying the campus community and beyond to support the university as it continues to redefine higher education. Following the public launch of Campaign ASU 2020 earlier this year, the ASU Foundation announced that donors set a new yearly fundraising record: $220 million in new gifts and commitments. For more information on the Sun Devil Family Association, click here.
Top photo: Freshman Jesse Nguyen meets Junette West, the donor who funded the Sun Devil Family Association scholarship that he received. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now