Meet some of our supporters.
“Meritus award recipients and all those who support them are engaged in something so much larger than themselves,” notes Professor James Taylor. “It’s an homage to all those who have been committed to their success, and the prospects of their future generations rest with them”.
As Professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco, Prof. Taylor has dedicated himself to social justice work throughout his entire life and initially got involved with Meritus by participating in applicant interviews. In reflecting on his work interviewing Meritus applicants, Prof. Taylor saw himself in the students Meritus supports: “Looking at all the stories of these young people – that they’re still hoping and dreaming – it’s pretty amazing.” Most recently, Taylor provided his insight and inspired advice as the keynote speaker at the 2013 Meritus Awards Reception held at KQED.
From modest beginnings in inner city New York, Prof. Taylor learned what it meant to carry his family’s hopes and dreams with him through his fight out of poverty and to the top. “Born to a widowed woman, and being one of seven children in a working poor family; with all of the disadvantages that come with that”, Prof. Taylor reflects, “watching all those people being crushed by those circumstances…I didn’t want to be a statistic.” Working directly with Meritus Scholars has, likewise, been an inspiration to him. “This work”, he says, “is deeply personal.”
After earning degrees from Pepperdine University as well as University of Southern California, Prof. Taylor now teaches Politics at University of San Francisco – recently identified as the top U.S. university for minorities (http://diverseeducation.com/article/53530/) – and has served as policy consultant for the San Francisco Human Rights Commission and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Personal and professional interests include race and ethnic politics, social movements, political ideology, law and public policy, and the U.S. Presidency. He is also the author of the award-winning 2011 book: Black Nationalism in the United States: From Malcolm X to Barack Obama (Lynne Rienner Publishers).
- One Sky Giving Circle
One Sky Giving Circle is a group of women who believe that the key to peace and economic progress lies in tapping the potential of half the developing world’s resources: women.
MoreThrough One Sky Giving Circle, each donor has a financial commitment, funds are pooled, and members democratically choose the grantees.
“The four appalling realities that prevent women’s full participation in society around the world are: maternal mortality, human trafficking, sexual violence, and routine daily discrimination that cause girls to die at far higher rates than boys,” says members Fiona Smythe (Meritus donor since 2007) and Maryam Mohit (Meritus donor since 2012) “The key tools to fighting these challenges are girls’ education, family planning, micro-finance, and ‘empowerment’ of women and girls. It turns out the best way to fight poverty and extremism is to educate and empower women and girls. Our objectives are to both financially support organizations that are addressing these realities by using these tools, and to engage our members in thinking about these issues so that we become more educated donors.”
The giving circle chooses recipient organizations through a rigorous process: members nominate a slate of organizations, which a member-staffed Grant Screening Board researches thoroughly. Findings are presented to the group and members vote to choose two grantees – one international and one local. “We chose this model because we felt that our money would go a long way in an international organization and could make a substantial impact,” says Smythe and Mohit. “We also wanted to get involved in our community – to volunteer and participate in the change we hoped to enact, which led us to also choose a local grantee with whom we could be more involved on a personal level. Meritus’s focus on young women and men from the San Francisco community who have overcome tremendous personal challenges and are seeking higher education fit very nicely with our goals. We liked that we could make a significant and life-changing difference in the life of one young woman.”
Created in 2012 with 28 founding members, One Sky Giving Circle currently has nearly 40 members, with goals of capping membership at 220. They welcome the community to learn more and join them: oneskygivingcircle.org.
- Diana Wang Louie
“My Meritus donors encouraged me to do well in school. I was so touched and felt so supported and loved while attending college. At that point I set a goal for myself to one day ‘pay it forward’ and support a Meritus Scholar just as I was supported.”
Diana Wang-Louie is the eldest of five children and took it upon herself to set a good example for her siblings and extended family. “I am the first to go to college,” Louie Says. “My parents were immigrants who spoke very little English so opportunities were limited for them. My parents worked hard to support the five of us. Seeing how hard they worked motivated me to attend college in order to open up opportunities they never had.”The first Meritus Scholar, Louie received her scholarship and support from a small group of friends who recognized that talented local youth lacked the means and often the moral support to attend and complete degrees at four-year colleges. Founded by visionary Dr. Henry Safrit, Meritus has grown to support nearly 600 Scholars since 1996.
Louie went on to attend Santa Clara University where she earned a degree in Finance, with an emphasis in Marketing. In addition to her Meritus donors, she had numerous professors and upperclassmen that mentored her throughout her college career. Her ambition paid-off: Louie now serves as Sr. Channel Marketing Manager for Symantec.
Diana Wang-Louie and her husband, Mark Louie, established a Meritus scholarship in 2009, supporting Scholar Willy Ten in his studies at San Jose State University. Ten will graduate in 2014 with a degree in Electrical Engineering.
“Someone told me once that it’s not about you. It’s about the ones that came before you and those that come after you.”
Santiago Nuñez has mentored others since college. “For me, academics came first,” says Nuñez. “Once I had done well during my freshman year I started to explore campus to see how I could get involved. That’s how I started tutoring. It was so rewarding helping someone through a math problem or preparing for an exam. I got to help others through tutoring and informal mentoring.”An Associate at TPG Capital, Santiago graduated top of his class from Southern Methodist University. He excelled at the Cox School of Business, to which he received a scholarship. “The scholarship was a gift, and it allowed me to focus on my studies and extracurricular activities,” says Nuñez. “I worked part-time nonetheless. The busier I am, the better I am at managing my time. It keeps me on the go and well-organized… this is also true in the professional world.”
From humble beginnings, Nuñez was born in Argentina. His family moved to the U.S. when he was eight years old, which was a vast improvement over Argentina’s troubled economy. “I realize how different it is when I go back and visit,” says Nuñez. People study and work hard and try to get ahead, but the opportunities are just not there like they are here in the U.S.”
Nuñez’s parents attended college, and instilled that same work ethic in their son. “The expectation was to go to college and succeed both academically and professionally,” says Nuñez. “My father would say, ‘All of this around you is because we have worked very hard.’” Nuñez’ father is an engineer, and his mother is a computer scientist-turned high school math teacher, currently working on a master’s degree in mathematics.
Ambitious in education and his professional life, Nuñez also excels in community involvement. While living in New York he helped another nonprofit mentor and coach underprivileged minority youth ultimately into entering careers in Wall Street. “Any activities that help those with a non-traditional background, I want to help. I want them to succeed, too.”
Nuñez learned about Meritus through his company, which donates time regularly to the organization. Inspired to step in, he has participated in the Scholar selection process by reading applicant essays. He hopes to help with informational interviewing in the Career Connections program before leaving San Francisco for graduate school.
“If I were to give advice to new college students,” Nuñez says, “I would say to always ask for help, be willing to take constructive criticism, and not be afraid of asking questions. The people closest to you may tell you what you want to hear, but you need to be open to something new – really honest advice that keeps you up at night.”
“Without education, you risk never realizing your own innate potential.”
A venture capitalist and founder of Crosslink Capital, one would never guess that Sy Kaufman rose from modest means in Brooklyn, New York. Kaufman’s parents were European immigrants with an elementary school education, who worked hard to feed their family in a tough neighborhood during the late years of the Depression and World War II period.Motivated by his circumstances, Kaufman spent countless hours reading and studying in the New York Public Library and focusing on his education. “The library was my refuge and domicile,” recalls Kaufman. “I wanted to take advantage of my aptitude in science and mathematics and was eventually accepted into Stuyvesant High School which was, and remains one of the leading science high schools in NYC. So I studied hard and worked all throughout high school. I had one main goal in life as a teenager which simply stated was to get out of Brooklyn while surviving my childhood.”
Kaufman was accepted to the City University of New York, also known as the “poor man’s Harvard,” where he graduated with honors and a degree in electrical engineering. He worked in this field for the next 12 years, specializing in intelligence gathering and analysis in support of various classified projects for the government during both the Cold War and Vietnam War. During this time, Kaufman earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering from San Jose State University. Recognizing the technology based opportunities developing in Silicon Valley, he attended night school at Santa Clara University, earning an MBA with honors in only 20 months. Kaufman quickly rose in the ranks of high-tech management consulting and importantly in financial and investing services. He occupied progressively more responsible positions with both Hambrecht & Quist and Robertson, Stephens which were two of the leading high tech investment banks serving the needs of Silicon Valley and finally founding Crosslink Capital. “I’ve spent the last 35+ years working in investment analysis, corporate finance and the entire investment continuum of venture capital ranging from start up funding through to eventual initial public offerings (IPO).”
One thing was clear for Kaufman: “The odds of professional success become extremely low without a well grounded education. I also wanted to give back to those who needed help reflecting the fact that I didn’t have mentoring help as a youth and know how lonely that situation can prove to be. As a result, I became a philanthropist, I focused on disadvantaged children.” From newborns to college students, Kaufman has invested in people and programs while getting involved with the youth he supported financially. “I want to take time with the actual clients – the children and young adults. This is where I love to spend my time.” This year, Kaufman is sponsoring his second Meritus Scholar.
“For me, as a first-generation American, it has always been about education. I could not be here today without the benefits of my education. There was no alternative for me. My advice to Scholars is simple and that is to never quit… never give up. Continue to strive for what you want no matter how challenging; no matter how much the world seems like your enemy – trying to block you from reaching your goal. Never quit.”