August 2016 Features

Kindred Spirits

IMG_9183No one knows the value of a Bryn Mawr education better than Nanar Yoseloff ’97.

Today a Bryn Mawr College trustee, Yoseloff was born in the early years of the Lebanese Civil War. She lost her father to a car accident when she was four years old. Three years later, her mother moved from Beirut to the United States, where she struggled to support three children.

“Paying for Bryn Mawr was an uncertainty for us,” she recalls. “We had to borrow money to even make the first payment. Soon after I got to Bryn Mawr, my mother let me know that I would have to transfer to a state college.”

The first-year student was heartbroken: “It was like seeing what I could not have and then having to leave.”

The details of Yoseloff’s story might be exceptional, but the dilemma is all too common. How to afford a college education?

For Yoseloff, the answer came in the form of financial aid. At the urging of her dean, she disclosed her financial straits. “From that day on,” she explains, “I would go to the same kind woman in the Financial Aid Office at the beginning of each year with trepidation, and every year she would reassuringly put together a package of scholarship aid and loans to meet my need.”

Because of the College’s distinguished history of providing need-based financial aid, Nanar was able to stay, and her sense of the significance of this moment in her life has deepened over the ensuing years. Each time she meets a student or alumna with a similar story, she recognizes a kindred strength, a determination to succeed despite the odds, and a shared gratitude that the College welcomes this form of grit.

Today, as a trustee, Nanar sees from the inside that Bryn Mawr continues to use financial aid to push frontiers of opportunity to women who might be overlooked by other colleges and universities. And, a generation later, the price tag for college can still be an insurmountable hurdle to families. As a result, the cost of admitting the most-qualified students for the Bryn Mawr Class of 2020 is higher than it has ever been.

 

MAWRTERS FOR MAWRTERS

Nanar loved her time at Bryn Mawr. “When I first got to the College, I couldn’t believe such a place existed,” she recalls. “Bryn Mawr was the first time in my life that I felt truly accepted, where I felt I really belonged.

“Bryn Mawr was hard for me to come by, but I did not take one day for granted,” she adds.

So when Bryn Mawr came calling during her first year of law school, Yoseloff responded. She recalls: “The phonathon call was a lifeline to Bryn Mawr. It reminded me of a place whose values I connected with. I thought that as long as there was a Bryn Mawr in this world, there was hope. I was so happy to give the piddly amount that I could afford.”

Yoseloff’s sense of gratitude has stayed with her, and in 2007 for her 10th Reunion, she and her husband, Tony, created the Nanar and Anthony Yoseloff Endowed Scholarship Fund. In 2015 the couple made a significant addition to this scholarship so that it could aid a student with even greater need. They also challenged other young alumnae to step up their philanthropy by offering 10 matching gifts to a new generation of alumnae to establish their own first endowed scholarship.

And the response has been gratifying, both to the Yoseloffs and to Bryn Mawr. The eight Mawrters who have accepted the challenge to date come from diverse backgrounds and are pursuing distinct paths. And although their stories differ widely, they all hope to make Bryn Mawr available to future students.

“I so admire what Nanar and her husband have done,” says Alex Kaufmann Kosslyn ’04.

Kosslyn was already an active volunteer in the Bryn Mawr community—she works with the student-run Owl Investment Group—and was ready to do more.

“When I heard about it, I thought, This is a way to directly impact someone’s life. When I was at Bryn Mawr, I was on a partial scholarship, and this seemed the perfect way to pay it forward.”

Plus, Kosslyn wanted to show students that they can be financially independent women. Her fund—Alexandra Kaufmann ’04 Scholarship Fund—is in her maiden name, and while the timing of her gift was pure happenstance, she’s pleased by the idea that it reflects “that women’s independence thing. You don’t have to wait until you’re older or married, to give back,” she says.

Timing also played a role for Kierstin Gray ’01. “I have been blessed to be the fourth generation of my family to receive a college education,” she says, “and in many ways I am proof of how a collegiate education can positively shape the story of a family. Thanks to Nanar and her husband, it is possible for me to contribute to the stories of other families.”

Gray, a contract product management consultant and a musician, credits her Bryn Mawr experience with giving her the discipline and independence of mind to design her career trajectory.

What is more, she says, “Bryn Mawr helped me find ‘my people.’ I found people who were like me, and I can honestly say that over 80 percent of the people I know are either alumnae or people I met through alumnae or through opportunities I got because of Bryn Mawr.”

And she welcomes the opportunity to give others the chance to share that community.

“The opportunity and access that an education can afford—especially a Bryn Mawr education—are immeasurable,” she says. “And it was important for me to contribute to a legacy for the College not only as a Black woman but also within the context of my family’s history of supporting and furthering education.”

A Posse Scholar at Bryn Mawr, Jennifer Rusk ’05 admits to a difficult freshman year. “I went as far as filling out transfer applications,” she says, “and then one day, I had an email from President Vickers, ‘I heard you’re thinking of transferring. Please come to Pen-y-Groes for lunch today.’ I thought I was in big trouble.”

What she encountered was not reproach but rather encouragement.

“If I were to sum up my experience in four years and even now trying to get more people involved with the College and working with Nanar and people like that, I would point to what I witnessed back then when I had lunch with President Vickers—which was she took an interest in me. And continued to during my four years at Bryn Mawr.”

A long-time supporter of the Posse Foundation, Rusk recently decided that she wanted to continue that support—but now on campus.

“When I learned about Nanar’s challenge,” she says, “I thought that was it. It was almost like double the giving for me because my scholarship could go not just to a Bryn Mawr student but to a Posse Scholar as well.”

Liana Sterling ’03 was particularly taken with the idea of leveraging the resources behind the Yoseloffs’ gift.

“This was a unique opportunity,” she says. “Because higher education is incredibly expensive today, any chance to stretch an impact is enormously helpful.”

After nearly a decade working in public policy, Sterling made a career change this year when she joined Orleans Realty, the firm founded by her mother and fellow Mawrter, Nora Lavori ’71.

As a second-generation Mawrter, Sterling has spent a lifetime watching Bryn Mawr women in action, and the opportunity to give others a shot at the Bryn Mawr experience was central to her decision to rise to the Yoseloff challenge. “When Mawrters are together there is a supportive spirit that emerges,” she says, “a spirit that makes you feel that you can do anything.”

 

A NETWORK OF SISTERS

In April, the Yoseloffs hosted a reception in their Manhattan home to introduce alumnae to students who benefit from need-based financial aid. Over the years, the funds their gifts have endowed will enable generations of talented young women to learn and live at Bryn Mawr.

Rasha Younes ’16 spoke.

Like Nanar Yoseloff, Younes hails from Beirut and, like her, faced hardship and loss early on. Her sister Leyla played a pivotal role in Rasha’s life.

“She paved the road for me to seek out opportunity,” says Younes.

Leyla’s support was just the beginning of Younes’s lesson in the power of sisterhood. On campus, she benefited from a network of Mawrters whose example inspired her: “One of them was my hall advisor, so I became a hall advisor,” she explains.

“One of them was my peer mentor, so I became a peer mentor.”

And the Bryn Mawr sister who introduced her to spoken word poetry also put her on the path to a Watson Fellowship. Today, Younes is traveling the world to study spoken word and the oral tradition in South Africa, Ireland, India, Germany, and the Czech Republic.

In fact, Younes’s college career wouldn’t have been possible without the Bryn Mawr sisterhood.

“My coming to college, period, was hinged on getting a scholarship,” she explains.

“Every day I wake up knowing how privileged and lucky I am to have gotten to Bryn Mawr,” she says. “There are so many promising students locked in a war-torn country, and it’s just amazing that I am the one who got to come to Bryn Mawr on a full scholarship.” Younes was the recipient of the Frances Porcher Bowles Memorial Scholarship Fund and the Margaret Jackson Clowes Scholarship Fund.

“I owe all of this to the sisters that I’ve had in my life,” Younes says, “my actual sister, the sisters I have formed at Bryn Mawr, and all of the alumnae who create this amazing network of women.”


 

MAKING THEIR MARK

There is no mistaking that Bryn Mawr graduates set out make a meaningful contribution in whatever enterprise they undertake. And for the eight Mawrters below one of their contributions is helping another generation of talented young women attend Bryn Mawr and, in turn, make their mark on the world. Meet the eight young alumnae who have responded to Nanar and Tony Yoseloff’s challenge:

In her current avatar, Monsoon Bissell ’93 is preparing to appear in the musical Monsoon Wedding. She is the co-creator of Two Women Talking, a performance piece that sets out to make meaning of gender, violence, and tradition through personal storytelling. Her work in the field of applied behavioral science and coaching continues both in the U.S. and India.

Courtney SeibertFennimore ’99 majored in political science at Bryn Mawr and continued her education at the London School of Economics and NYU School of Law. She was formerly a staff attorney at the Security and Exchange Commission. Her husband, Tom Fennimore (Swarthmore ’97), is managing director and global head of the automotive division at Jefferies. They have two sons, Logan and Jameson.

Kierstin Gray ’01, a contract product management consultant, is currently building two businesses—a product innovation firm and a company looking to build products to service urban agriculture communities.

A history of art major, Alex Kaufmann Kosslyn ’04 was aiming for a career in the art world but instead found a path leading her to finance, and began a career in investor relations. She credits Bryn Mawr with instilling her with “a certain level of scrappiness” that proved invaluable when she joined Pershing Square Capital Management when it was first getting off the ground.

With two master’s degrees under her belt and on her way to earnin a doctorate in educational leadership at the University of Pennsylvania, Meera Ratnesar ’01 is the head of school at Curtis School in Newport Beach, California.

Now Director of Investor Relations and Marketing at Folger Hill Asset Management, Jennifer Rusk ’05 came to Bryn Mawr as a Posse Scholar and, despite a rocky start on campus, “left Bryn Mawr happy.”

After 10 years in the halls of government, Liana Sterling ’03 decided it was time for a career change. Now an executive in a New York real estate firm, she says, “I spent six years working for the NYC Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget on projects related to advancing health and social policy in the Bloomberg and then De Blasio Administrations. I really enjoyed the work and also saw an opportunity where I could help to shape the direction of a business.”

Chiemi Suzuki ’00 leveraged her biology major and love of writing into a career as a patent litigator. As counsel with the New York law firm Crowell & Moring, she represents generic pharmaceutical companies with the goal of making less-expensive drugs available to the public. Her wife, Margaret diZerega (Williams ’02), is the director of the Family Justice Program at Vera Institute for Justice. They have a son, Kiyoshi.

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