Scholarship's boosted endowment supports more international students
Every year, hundreds of accepted international applicants are unable to enroll at Cornell for lack of funds. While the university fully covers the financial aid needs of all U.S. citizens and permanent residents – through a combination of grants, scholarships and loans – it only has a limited number of scholarships to award to students from other countries.
Inspired to make a Cornell education accessible to more foreign undergraduates, trustee Martin Tang '70 made a gift in 2008 to establish the Martin Y. Tang International Scholarship Challenge, which would match cash gifts and commitments of $187,500 or more on a $1-for-$3 basis.
The Tang Challenge has been a successful initiative and is moving toward completion.
Cornell University Council member Dr. Alexander Levitan '59 and his wife, Lucy, first established a scholarship endowment for international students at Cornell in 1999, the Sacha Levitan M.D. Memorial Scholarship, which is named in memory of Levitan's father. When they decided to increase the endowment last year, their new gift was enhanced by the Tang Challenge money.
"My father emigrated from Russia to France as a young person," explains Levitan. "He received both of his degrees at the expense of the French government, and he was eternally grateful to the French for this. It was really a life changer for him. That was my motivation."
Alexander Levitan, an oncologist who took the very first oncology board offered, back when it was an emerging specialty, was also motivated by his experience of interviewing and recommending a brilliant Chinese applicant to Cornell, who was subsequently unable to attend because no scholarship was offered to him.
Today, Levitan and his wife, Lucy, feel great pride and satisfaction, they say, in providing an education to young people from Africa, Asia, Europe and South America. They have supported 18 students at Cornell thus far, three this year alone.
In a folder they keep in a desk drawer in their study, the Levitans have saved all of the thank-you letters they've received from their scholars over the years. There's one from a Peruvian student who interned at the United Nations and is now pursuing an advanced degree in public health. There's another from a Croatian student who wants to become a cardiologist and will begin research soon on artificial blood. Another, from a Korean student double-majoring in philosophy and biology, includes the line "Coming to Cornell was the best decision of my life." He also writes that he is very involved in Cornell's Tae Kwon Do team (Levitan relays this fact with a little chuckle) and hopes to become a lawyer.
"These may be future world leaders," Levitan muses as he shuffles through his stack of letters. "It's very gratifying."
When asked how she feels about their giving to Cornell, Lucy Levitan says, "I'm probably 125 percent enthusiastic about it!" She adds, "Here in the Twin Cities we have so many ethnicities, and we love to meet people from all parts of the world. So I find it wonderful we can support people from other countries as they pursue a Cornell education."
The Levitans, who for the past several years have hosted a send-off party at their house for Cornell students from the Minneapolis area (last summer 92 students, alumni and parents attended), plan to continue investing more resources into their international scholarships from their Cornell Foundation account.
"When I decided to engage in philanthropy on a slightly larger scale," Levitan recalls, "I learned that the Cornell University Foundation will administer your charitable donations without charging you a fee. I tend to be a bit frugal, so I thought, 'Why not use Cornell?'" The couple has given more than $1 million to other colleges and universities through their Cornell University Foundation fund.
Levitan is interested in inspiring others to make education accessible through gifts to scholarships. "Whenever we receive a new thank-you letter from one of our Cornell scholars," he says, "we scan it and send copies to our children and grandchildren. We want to instill the same philosophy of philanthropy in them."