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Expanding Opportunity at Home: A Brownsville Family Continues Its Giving Tradition

Giving News

Nick and Viveca Serafy with sons Paul, Clayton, Jason, and Niko, standing, and daughters-in-law Lauren and Jenna.

By Jamey Smith

For Brownsville’s Nick and Viveca Serafy, giving to the University is about more than improving its programs. It’s also about making those programs more accessible to area students who would not otherwise be able to take advantage of them.

That’s why they support the Rio Grande Valley Scholars Program.

“We hope our gifts to UT help kids from the Rio Grande Valley fulfill their dream of becoming a Longhorn,” says Nick Serafy, BA ’78.

The Serafys continue a family tradition by directing their support through a foundation that was started by Nick’s late parents. His father, Nicholas T. Serafy, Sr., BA ’49, MA ’51, graduated from the University with the skills and resolve to establish a successful medical laboratory. His mother, Michigan graduate Jean Serafy, was a musician and educator who began her teaching career in 1946 at UT and went on to establish and chair Texas Southmost College’s music department.

Nicholas and Jean met in Austin, says Nick, and if not for the University, “a World War II veteran from the Rio Grande Valley probably would not have met a pianist from the Midwest — so I guess it would be safe to credit UT with more than my education.”

While his parents pursued their careers in Brownsville, Nick expanded his horizons a few hundred miles north as a microbiology major on the Forty Acres. His student days included working for the University News and Information Service when it was based in the Littlefield Carriage House. He relished the excitement of being at UT during running back Earl Campbell’s epic Heisman Trophy-winning season.

But above all there are the fond memories of conducting research in the cramped but industrious spaces of the Experimental Science Building. That building has since been razed to make way for the Norman Hackerman Building, part of a block of cutting-edge facilities that includes the Moffett Molecular Biology Building, Neural Molecular Science Building, and recently renamed Larry R. Faulkner Nanoscience?and Technology Building.

The Rio Grande Valley Scholars Program will provide a number of $10,000 renewable scholarships to Valley residents who demonstrate financial need and show excellence in academics, leadership, and community service.

Today Nick is president and CEO of the business begun by his father, Proficiency Testing Service, Inc., which services about 26,000 laboratories in the U.S. and another 2,000 abroad.

He is excited about the work being done in his discipline at UT, and, as new generations find their scientific calling each academic year, hopes some of them will arrive as Rio Grande Valley Scholars.

“The identification of pathogens in the clinical laboratory is moving away from culture-based identification to molecular diagnostics,” he says. “The research that students are able to perform in these buildings should not only prepare them for molecular diagnostics; they may be involved in developing new techniques for identifying pathogens and other microorganisms.”

While continuing the philanthropic work of the Serafy Foundation, Nick has stepped up his UT involvement in recent years as a member of the University Development Board. His and Viveca’s four sons attended other universities, but the first two, Niko and Paul, while not being Longhorns, at least married well — Jenna Vaughan, BS ’05, and Lauren Smith, BS ’08, respectively — and hope remains for the other two.

“Jason and Clayton are not married yet, so there’s still a chance that they will also find UT graduates.”

Alumni and friends of the University have invested more than $150,000 in the Rio Grande Valley Scholars Program, toward an endowment goal of $600,000, to bring the Valley’s best students to UT. When completely funded, the endowment will support full scholarships for up to three students a year. In the meantime, the first scholar can be selected once the $200,000 threshold is reached.

Learn more about the Rio Grande Valley Scholars Program.

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