U.Va. announces scholarship for first-generation students with $100 million donation

David and Jane Walentas donate money for scholarship during Honor the Future fundraising campaign

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The gift comes from David and Jane Walentas of New York. David Walentas is a graduate of the College and Darden school in the class of 1961 and 1964 respectively.

Emma Klein | Cavalier Daily

The University announced $100 million gift as a part of the Honor the Future campaign this weekend. The money is for a new scholarship program to attract first-generation students to the University. The gift was announced by University President Jim Ryan at a dinner for donors and community members on the South Lawn.

The gift comes from David and Jane Walentas of New York. David Walentas is a graduate of the College and Darden school in the class of 1961 and 1964 respectively.

The majority of the gift — $75 million — will be allocated to scholarships. The remaining $25 million will fund graduate fellowships and additional professorships through the Jefferson Scholars Foundation and the Darden School of Business.

The Walentas Scholars will identify in-state first-generation students, as well as students from Rochester, New York, where Walentas grew up, and from New York City, where he made his career. Schools in these three areas will nominate candidates to compete for the scholarship each year, starting in 2022. There will be 60 undergraduate students enrolling as Walentas Scholars, and the scholarships will cover the entire cost of attendance at the University.

“I cannot imagine a better way to honor the future than by making a significant and lasting commitment to first-generation college students,” University President Jim Ryan said in the press release. “This gift from David Walentas will serve as a cornerstone of the $5 billion campaign we are launching this weekend and will have an enduring impact on the University of Virginia and on those who attend it.” 

Part of Ryan’s strategic plan is aimed toward creating opportunity and accessibility for first-generation students. Both Ryan and David Walentas were the first in their families to graduate college. 

“Growing up, I didn’t know anyone who had been to college, but I knew that it was a way out of poverty and a path to opportunity,” Walentas said. “Thanks to a scholarship, I was the first in my family to attend college, and my time at UVA completely changed my life. There are so many talented young people in this country — in places like New York City and Rochester, where I grew up — who can help make our society a better place if given the opportunity. I can’t wait to see how these first-generation college students change the world.” 

Student Council President Ellie Brasacchio, who ran on a platform of helping low-income and first-generation students, called the announcement an “insane change.”

“I think it completely changes U.Va’s image to first-generation students,” Brasacchio said. “This solidifies U.Va’s dedication to getting first-generation students on Grounds with financial support.”

This announcement comes as the University celebrates the public launch of the campaign to raise $5 billion, which will fund Ryan’s 10-year strategic plan. Ryan said today the University has raised $2.75 billion of its goal, including this $100 million gift. The announcement came during a dinner tonight on the South Lawn for donors and leaders within the University community.

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