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Donors Make a Difference with Summer Scholars Program

Giving News

At first glance it might not seem that Michael and Alice Kuhn have much in common with the incoming UT freshmen who participate in the Summer Scholars Program. But a closer look at the participants in the program, run by UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, shows qualities the couple can appreciate: high motivation, a positive attitude, and a willingness to learn. The only thing holding back these top 10 percent graduates of Texas high schools is their socioeconomic situation.

Summer Scholars supporters Alice and Michael Kuhn

The Kuhns have three grown children and are longtime Austin residents. Michael owns a commercial real estate company and Alice directs the Michael and Alice Kuhn Foundation. Like many participants in the Summer Scholars Program, Michael and Alice were first-generation college students. Given that perspective, plus their families’ Russian and Hungarian immigrant backgrounds, both recognize the value of attending college. “If you give someone a good education, he or she can live out their aspirations,” says Alice, MEd ’83. “A good education can’t be taken away.”

All of the students in the Summer Scholars Program were top performers in high school. But research shows that first-generation students need additional support to become successful at the collegiate level. A primary objective of the program is to ensure that the students are nurtured and made to feel they are part of a true learning community. They join in research projects with tenured faculty, receive individualized tutoring and academic counseling, attend academic workshops, and bond with one another in social activities. In short, they’re immersed in the ideal college environment. The formula is working: The 15 participants in 2009 had a collective summer GPA of 3.2. This summer 30 students are taking part.

The program fully pays for each student’s experience; UT covers tuition, fees, and program expenses, while housing and meal expenses are funded by philanthropic donations. That’s where donors like the Kuhns are making a difference. Their foundation supports projects aimed at promoting social justice and ending poverty — both nationally and in the Austin area — and the Summer Scholars Program addresses both goals. “Eliminating poverty isn’t a goal we can accomplish by ourselves,” Michael says, “but we can play a role in it.”

Visit utexas.edu/diversity for more about this and other UT diversity initiatives.

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