$100 million initiative enhances UChicago’s commitment to lower-income students

The University of Chicago is launching a $100 million enhancement of support for lower-income students with outstanding potential through a $50 million gift and challenge from writer Harriet Heyman, AM’72, and her husband, investor Sir Michael Moritz.

The new five-year commitment is part of a $350 million investment by the University in the Odyssey Scholarship Program—UChicago’s distinct and successful model of support for undergraduate students with the greatest economic need, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college. The Odyssey program currently eliminates loans and academic-year work requirements for lower-income students. The gift and challenge from Heyman and Moritz will help the students thrive in school and pursue rewarding careers after graduation. The program includes additional support for study abroad, academic enrichment and career development through paid, substantive internships for each Odyssey Scholar.

To make the greatest impact beyond the UChicago community, the gift and challenge also will increase the number of students admitted to the Collegiate Scholars Program by nearly 40 percent. This innovative initiative has prepared hundreds of Chicago Public Schools students to excel at the nation’s leading universities.

“Cultivating students’ potential for exceptional achievement regardless of their economic circumstances has always been a central commitment of the University of Chicago,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “Harriet and Michael’s transformative generosity reaffirms that principle and allows us to pursue an ambitious model of support for students of diverse backgrounds. We are deeply grateful for their action on this vital issue.”

Heyman, who grew up in the South Shore neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, attended Chicago public schools. “Coming of age during the Depression, my parents didn’t go to college. It meant a lot to them that I was able to get a good education. At that time, public schools provided a great foundation. And my parents, like many middle-class families then, could afford to send me to college. That is hardly the case for students from low-income families. We want to do what we can to reduce economic barriers for outstanding students equipped with grit and tenacity, which will serve them well in a demanding milieu like UChicago,” Heyman said.

Heyman worked at The New York Times and Life magazine, and has written for numerous publications. She is the author of a novel, Between Two Rains, as well as Private Acts: The Acrobat Sublime, which explores the art and artistry of acrobats through essays and photographs. She holds a master’s degree from UChicago’s Division of the Humanities. Moritz, chairman of Sequoia Capital, was a journalist with Time magazine, and wrote the first book in 1984 about the origins of Apple Inc., The Little Kingdom: The Private Story of Apple Computer. Moritz joined Sequoia in 1986 and has been chairman since 2012. He recently co-authored the best-seller, LEADING, with Sir Alex Ferguson, longtime coach of Manchester United.

“My parents were both given scholarships, and the only way I could afford to come to the United States was on a student scholarship program. So, belatedly, this is our way of expressing our gratitude to people we didn’t know.” Moritz said. “We also understand that, beyond tuition, students with great economic needs also need a support network, internships and the opportunity to experience the world.”

Heyman and Moritz, who have made several major gifts supporting educational aid in the United States and the United Kingdom, were inspired by the success of the Odyssey program, which began in 2007 with an original $100 million gift from an anonymous donor known only as Homer. In addition to the gift, Homer challenged the University to raise an endowment of $150 million. Since then, more than 3,500 students have been named Odyssey Scholars, and the initiative has attracted more than 10,000 additional gifts.

Renewing that legacy, Heyman and Moritz have made a $50 million commitment to the Odyssey program and have challenged the University to raise the remaining $50 million with the support of UChicago alumni, parents, families and friends.

“We are confident of meeting this challenge because we believe that the University of Chicago’s Core curriculum, in tandem with our exceptional resources for career preparation, offers a foundation that students cannot obtain in any other way,” said John W. Boyer, dean of the College. “Our approach allows young people to build intellectual focus, self-confidence and clarity of leadership, so they leave here in a position to make a real difference in our society. I have no doubt that the new Odyssey Challenge will be an energizing goal for our extended University community.”

Helping lower-income students to succeed is a personal priority for Boyer, who grew up on Chicago’s South Side and was the first person in his extended family to attend and graduate from college. He said enhancing Odyssey upholds the ideals that made UChicago unusual at its founding in 1890, with an emphasis on merit and achievement rather than social standing.

“It’s in the core of our DNA to help hard-working students achieve more than they thought possible,” Boyer said. “We also want to provide a model for other universities to take concrete action. There are many highly talented students who deserve a chance to excel and to succeed, and it is extremely important that our colleges and universities do all that is possible to provide those opportunities.”

Unlocking students’ full potential

A key part of the initiative is to build support both for students at UChicago and for ambitious high school students across the city of Chicago.

At UChicago, Odyssey will further bolster programs for first-generation students and students with financial need, even before they arrive at the University. Odyssey Scholars will receive advice and mentoring in academics, financial issues and the College experience through the University’s new Center for College Student Success. For students with the greatest financial need, the program also will reduce family contributions for books, travel and other activities that enhance a student’s educational experience. This pathway to success includes focused career support so that first-generation and lower-income students can develop skills and professional networks. Odyssey will support additional internships, research opportunities and mentorship programs, connecting each Odyssey Scholar with successful professionals and potential employers.

“An education unlocks the door of opportunity to a brighter future. With this generous gift to the Odyssey program, Harriet Heyman and Sir Michael Moritz, are helping to open that door to many more lower-income students,” said Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago. “I want to thank Harriet and Michael for their commitment to the education and well-being of our talented students and the future of our city. Also I applaud the University of Chicago for its continued support of students with the greatest economic need, many of them the first in their families to attend college.”

Many Odyssey students are among the College’s top achievers, earning honors like Fulbright grants and National Science Foundation fellowships. The students tend to believe deeply in the program; nearly 80 percent of Odyssey alumni have donated to the University.

“If my education had been restricted by what my parents could afford, I would not be attending any four-year college,” said Brian Wandawa, an Odyssey Scholar from Kampala, Uganda. “As a son of immigrant parents, I had grown accustomed to feeling like an outsider. For me, UChicago is way more than an education. It’s been the one place where I’ve been able to find myself.”

Beyond UChicago, Heyman and Moritz’s gift and challenge will increase the number of Chicago Public Schools students who can enroll in the University’s competitive Collegiate Scholars Program, administered by the Office of Civic Engagement. Founded in 2003, Collegiate Scholars is designed to encourage the highest-achieving students from under-resourced backgrounds to apply to and succeed at top colleges.  As Collegiate Scholars, students in grades 10-12 attend summer classes at UChicago and participate in enrichment activities geared toward college readiness, leadership and civic engagement during the school year. They form a strong network of high-achieving public school students from across the city; about 75 percent of them are from lower-income backgrounds and 80 percent are African American or Latino students.

The results of the Collegiate Scholars Program inspired Heyman and Moritz to support its expansion. Of the 479 program alumni, about 70 percent have enrolled in the nation’s most selective schools, including the University of Chicago, Princeton University and Harvard University, among others. More than 90 percent of Collegiate Scholars graduate from college within six years. Most participants say the experience motivated them to stretch their goals and gave them opportunities to visit and explore colleges that they would not have known about otherwise.

“In just over a decade, the Collegiate Scholars Program has helped prepare hundreds of intellectually talented and academically ambitious Chicago youth for success at top-tier institutions and has become a model for other university-based college access programs,” said Derek R.B. Douglas, Vice President for Civic Engagement. “This gift and the generosity of others will expand the reach and depth of the program, and, ultimately, its impact on the futures of many promising students.”

The impact of Odyssey on young people’s lives demonstrates the profound value of a liberal arts education, Boyer said.

“I really want to challenge the notion of a liberal arts model as something that’s apart from the world,” Boyer said. “It is crucially important to look at the experience of students in a systematic and holistic way, with attention both to strong academic preparation and to strategic career support as well. We hope that colleagues at other colleges and universities will look at these outcomes and decide it is worth a try. Imagine what’s possible if they do.”

The gift and challenge from Heyman and Moritz is part of the University of Chicago Campaign: Inquiry and Impact, the most ambitious fundraising campaign in University history, which will raise $4.5 billion and engage 125,000 alumni by 2019.