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Scholarship site links students with donors

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Susan Wilson
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MIT Student Financial Services

When Andrew Luckmann got his financial aid award letter last spring and saw that part of his package included scholarship money from the Mark E. Beckham (1977) Memorial Fund, the name didn't mean much to him. But that was before he met Beckham's family.

Thanks to a recently launched web project, enrolled undergraduates can now find out not only how much MIT scholarship money they're getting, but exactly which scholarship funds it comes from -- and in many cases, details about how a fund was established and for whom it was named.

The web site is part of WebSIS (a web-based student information system) and therefore has restricted access; students need MIT certificates to find this information.

MIT has more than 900 gift and endowed funds created by alumni or other friends of the Institute to support scholarship aid. Some of those donors have set specific conditions for who can receive a scholarship from that fund.

When undergraduates are awarded a scholarship by Student Financial Services (SFS) as part of their financial aid package, they fill out a form that gives SFS some information about their background and interests. Where needed, SFS donor relations manager Susan Wilson matches students to funds based on this information. Other students have scholarship money that comes out of endowed funds with no preferences or restrictions, or from the general MIT scholarship budget. The Institute guarantees it will meet the financial need of every student, "but a lot of them don't stop to think how MIT is able to do that," Wilson said.

The Beckham fund was created in 2000 by Cynthia Carlson Beckham in memory of her husband, a 1977 MIT graduate in civil engineering who died suddenly when he was 45. His wife stipulated that money from the fund should preferably go to a student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

"Most students have no idea" where their scholarship money comes from, said Luckmann, of Scarsdale, N.Y., who will be a senior in civil engineering. In 2004-05, 2,311 undergraduates (56 percent) received more than $50 million in MIT scholarships. The average scholarship from MIT funds was $21,650.

Now, by logging onto WebSIS and clicking on "financial record" and then "donor record," students can see the name of every fund that has contributed to their scholarship total - and each name has a link to a web page that includes some biographical information about the fund and the donor, when available. If a donor has requested anonymity, the only information that students will see is the name and purpose of the fund and the date it was establishment.��

To gather information for the web project, every effort is being made to contact as many donors and family members as possible, asking for details about how and why the funds were established. Not all the scholarship fund web pages have donor information yet, since many scholarship funds were created decades ago and details about the establishment of many funds have been lost. But, about one-third of the 900-plus scholarship funds are actively stewarded, meaning there is a living donor or family member associated with the fund.

Beckham was one of the first to participate. She said one of the benefits for her is that the scholarship fund offers a way for her and her two sons (now 12 and 10) to maintain a bond with MIT. In March, the family met Luckmann, the fund's first beneficiary. He is someone they can talk to about Mark, and he's a person they know Mark has helped.

"It's really meaningful for my sons to connect (to MIT) in this positive way," she said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 7, 2006 (download PDF).

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