Donors Provide Scholarship Support and Real-World Experience

For years, University of Cincinnati alumni Bill and Sandy Wiesmann had been passionate advocates for UC and caring donors. But they knew they wanted to do more for their alma mater – and for students.

Four people standing outside together smiling.“I felt like just giving checks to students and saying ‘Have a nice day’ really doesn’t do much in terms of relating our experiences in life to the students’ or even adding any personal value to the contributions that we make,” Bill said. “So I felt, and Sandy felt, it would be really interesting if we could find a way to be more engaged with the students and maybe give them more of a personal experience along with some scholarship support.”

Ultimately, the couple decided to make a gift to the University that reflected their backgrounds and passions, but also empowered students by providing them with real-world professional experiences. A University of Cincinnati Foundation Board Trustee and graduate of UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice, Human Services, and Information Technology (CECH), Sandy spent her career as an educator and then as part of the American Federation of Teachers. Bill studied chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) before becoming a doctor and later launching his own biotechnology company, Synedgen. Both have served on the advisory boards of their respective colleges.

Together, Bill and Sandy created the Next Generation Leadership Scholars program, a unique opportunity for exceptionally talented UC undergraduate students with financial need to engage in scientific research at companies like Synedgen. Students from both A&S’s qualifying STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – disciplines as well as CECH’s School of Education are selected through a competitive application process based on both merit and need. Chosen in the spring of their second year at UC, the Leadership Scholars spend the following two summers working on scientific research at Synedgen. Additionally, Leadership Scholars also receive significant scholarship support.

“It’s somewhat analogous to a co-op type program, only for Arts and Sciences and teacher education students,” Bill said. “The idea was that we could provide for them scholarship support, at the same time couple that with a summer job experience in my company in California, which would give them an opportunity to get some real hands-on experience working with professional scientists, developing some new and novel exciting treatments of rare diseases, which I’ve been involved with.”

In creating the Next Generation Leadership Scholars program, both Bill and Sandy reflected on their own time as students. Both Bill and Sandy say they worked 20 hours a week while at UC. The Wiesmanns’ wanted to support students who needed to work while in school and help them to launch their careers and lives, post-college.

“A lot of these students who take a really heavy workload, they’re not able to graduate in four years, which puts them at a big disadvantage,” Sandy said. “They come out with a lot of loans. We were trying to help the students who get these scholarships to see their way.”

Currently, two Leadership Scholars are spending their second summer at Synedgen; A&S biology major Briana Thomas and CECH science education major Alyssa Thompson. Thomas feels that the Next Generation Leadership Scholars program fulfills the Wiesmanns’ vision of creating an experience for students that is rigorous and professional, but also personally enriching.

“The Next Generation Leadership Scholars program has been an enlightening experience that allowed me to conduct ground-breaking research and understand how research proceeds,” Thomas said.

Thomas shared that working in the Synedgen lab alongside professional scientists is where she learned essential lab techniques and procedures that reinforced concepts she had studied in her classes at UC. The Leadership Scholars experience, she continued, has opened her mind to new career paths that she previously had not considered – and given her the confidence to pursue big dreams. The Wiesmanns’ have been personally involved in her growth, she said, offering support, guidance and encouragement.

“Continually, they provided me with advice and shared their own experiences within the scientific field which has reshaped my future pursuits,” Thomas said. “With their influence, I have decided I’d like to seek opportunities that allow me to conduct medical research, and still achieve my dream career of being a pediatrician. It is without a doubt that this experience was invaluable as a third-year biology major and the connections I have made will be cherished forever.”

Thomas’s fellow Leadership Scholar from CECH, Alyssa Thompson, has her sights set on being a teacher someday. Thompson feels that working in a professional setting with scientists in the midst of real research will strengthen her teaching, improving her ability to connect with students in the classroom by bringing the content of curriculum to life.

“The Next Generation Leadership Scholars program has provided me with the amazing opportunity to strengthen my scientific background in order to be a better teacher,” Thompson said. “Throughout this experience, I have constantly been modifying my plans for my future classroom in order to ensure that my students conduct experiments in a way that models real world scientific research. This opportunity has also allowed me to interact with scientists who I am sure I will be connected with for the rest of my career, allowing me to draw on their experiences and insights as I teach the students in my classroom.”

For Bill and Sandy, the opportunity to connect with students, get to know them, and meaningfully invest in their futures in has been deeply gratifying, a driving force behind their philanthropy.

“Giving students a leg up,” Sandy said. “And giving them some special notice and special care is something that not every student is able to get in a large university. I think that's something that motivated us.”

Bill agrees. “We see it as a win-win. We feel it means a lot to be able to help in this more personal way, and hopefully it will mean much more for the students in their careers as they move on.”

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