Inspiring Academic Excellence
light the world donors energize commitment to students and faculty
St. Ignatius saw education as a great engine of service to the world—the means through which students learn to be "men and women for others." They leave Boston College armed not only with knowledge and skills, but also with a sense of passion and responsibility to put their accomplishments to work. When BC does its job well, it makes the world a better place.
And while every school strives for academic excellence, the BC community lives and breathes it. At the Heights, academic excellence is deeply imbued with the University's Jesuit, Catholic values, and it is essential to every aspect of the BC experience. The goal is to nurture students' greatest gifts and help them discern how they might best be put into service for the greater good—an education not for self alone, but for all.
But how does BC define academic excellence? It's the spark between a professor and a classroom of students debating, questioning, thinking. It's the researcher working late into the night testing a theory or exploring a complex idea. And it's the prosaic necessities that make the teaching and the research possible—the classroom technology, the laboratory equipment, the research stipend.
Donors who support academic excellence as part of Light the World each illuminate a unique facet of Boston College. The benefactors featured here have found creative ways to marry their own passions with the University's mission.
MARIA AND DRAKE G. BEHRAKIS '86
When he contemplates the significance of academic excellence, Drake Behrakis '86 casts his mind back more than two millennia.
Behrakis feels he received an outstanding education at the Carroll School of Management. And for the CEO of Marwick Associates, a real estate investment and development company, that instruction has proven invaluable. But it was BC's balance between business and the liberal arts that made him a truly well-educated person, he explains, and gave him a strong foundation for his career.
"The core values and beliefs that infuse a liberal arts education go back to ancient Greece and Rome, the cultural background we share," says Behrakis. "BC has a strong classical orientation and an important connection to ancient Greece through the study of the classics, theology, philosophy, political science, and the arts. I want to help expand those areas so that BC's students and faculty benefit now and in the future."
Accordingly, Behrakis and his wife, Maria, have made several gifts to the University, totaling nearly $3.5 million, which work together as "pieces of the puzzle," as Behrakis puts it, to support academic excellence in the classical arena.
The Behrakis Professorship in Hellenic Political Studies—currently held by Robert Bartlett, an expert in the history of political philosophy—endows this position in perpetuity. Enhancing that professorship, the Behrakis Program Endowment provides broad-based support for Hellenic studies, including seminars, forums, teaching fellowships, and other scholarly activities, as well as the Behrakis Assistant Professorship in Hellenic Studies.
Students who wish to study abroad will find assistance from the Maria E. and Drake G. Behrakis '86 Fellowship for Study in Greece Fund. Even the Maria E. and Drake G. Behrakis '86 Fund for Athletics, supporting student-athletes, fits into the puzzle, as the Greeks saw athletic competition as integral to the development of the intellect. Whether considered individually or as part of an integrated whole, these gifts will go far to ensure BC remains a leader in the liberal arts for generations to come.
KAREN IZZI BRISTING '84
LA CAÑADA, CALIF.
In giving back to BC, Karen Izzi Bristing '84 has addressed issues of deep personal concern—making gifts totaling more than $2 million that advance initiatives in academic excellence at three schools within the University. In doing so, she is making a difference not only at the Heights, but also in the countless lives that BC's graduates will touch.
Touch, in this case, can be taken quite literally. The Bristing Palliative Care Fund provides endowed support for the Connell School of Nursing's Palliative Care Program, which trains nurses to attend to seriously ill patients with the goal of improving their quality of life. "This is the art of nursing, as well as the science," according to Connell School Dean Susan Gennaro.
Watching two close family members struggle with devastating chronic illnesses, Bristing became acutely aware of the role that nurses play, and she often wished that nursing care emphasizing patients' comfort was more readily available. "The nurses who do that work are like angels," she says. With this gift, Bristing is helping ensure that many more nurses will be trained in this critical specialty.
Additionally, Bristing's own experience at BC led her to establish the Bristing Urban Scholar Fund, making forgivable loans available to Lynch School of Education students who go on to teach in urban schools. As a student, Bristing herself worked with inner-city Boston youth. "Now I live in Los Angeles, where the dropout rate is more than 20 percent," she says. "It's a terrible problem. I want to encourage young people to go into that difficult work and inspire whoever they can to learn, not drop out."
Bristing's drive to inspire learning also led her to establish the Karen Izzi Bristing Faculty Research Fund at the College of Arts and Sciences, currently supporting two junior faculty members in the economics department.
Bristing, a former economics major, feels this gift has elevated her bond with BC and expresses her family's entrepreneurial nature. She is the owner of Equinox Equestrian Center, while her husband, Steve, co-owns and operates Race Truck Trends, which builds prototypes of new car and truck models. At BC, Bristing is proud to apply that same spirit—when she sees areas of need, she finds ways to meet them.
BC's Jesuit, Catholic mission is at the heart of everything it does. But a new Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW) doctoral program in international social welfare is the very embodiment of Ignatian ideals.
Developing nations in Africa, Central and South America, and Asia, collectively known as the Global South, often lack adequate programs of study in social welfare. So students from these countries make their way to North America or Europe, where they study social welfare models that may not transfer well to their homelands, and they may not return at all—a "brain drain" with lasting repercussions.
"This deprives their home countries of an important academic and professional resource," explains James Lubben, Louise McMahon Ahearn Professor of Social Work. "And at the same time, it makes it extremely difficult for the doctoral students to form important contacts or identify potential areas for research in their countries."
Through strategic partnerships with Jesuit, Catholic universities worldwide, the Doctoral Exchange Program in International Social Welfare will address that issue. The new program has been established with a gift of $450,000 from Santander Universities, the philanthropic arm of Spain-based Banco Santander, the parent company of Sovereign Bank. "This agreement is a very important one for us, as it will benefit students here in the U.S. and worldwide," says Santander Chairman Emilio Botín (right, with President William P. Leahy, S.J.).
Students will gain the research-driven knowledge, experience-based insight, and field-tested skills to address the unique issues faced by their home countries. By studying at both BC and partner universities, they will spend less time abroad and preserve strong connections to their own communities.
"It is no accident that the partnerships are with other Jesuit institutions," says Lubben, who serves as director of GSSW's doctoral program and will lead this new initiative. "We want to build on the Jesuit foundation of social justice and global mission—values that are very important to BC and the Graduate School of Social Work."
LORETTA AND ROBERT J. COONEY, JR. '74, P'08, '10
RIVER FOREST, ILL.
Robert Cooney, Jr. '74, P'08, '10, is both a proud BC graduate and parent. He is also a partner in Cooney & Conway, one of the country's most successful litigation firms, and has played blues guitar for most of his life. When one understands his love of the blues—with Doug Brown, P'05, he was executive producer of two Sonny Landreth albums, one of which was nominated for a Grammy Award—one begins to understand the special interest Cooney and his wife, Loretta, have in BC's American Studies Program.
A lifelong resident of Chicago, Cooney treasures both its myth and its music. "It's important that we understand who we are as a people, where we came from, and how we got here. It's the common, daily experiences of life—the culture of the everyday—that teach us that," he says.
Toward that end, the couple have endowed the Cooney Family Assistant Professorship Fund and the Cooney Family Faculty Research Fund with gifts to the College of Arts and Sciences. Among the humanities-related initiatives supported by their generosity is the American Studies Program, directed by Carlo Rotella, a Chicago South Sider himself.
The overarching goal of the American Studies Program is the analysis of American culture, past and present. In addition to course offerings, the program brings distinguished speakers from all walks of life to the Heights.
"I'm both fascinated and impressed by the work of the American Studies Program, and I am very happy to be part of it," says Cooney. "I'm deeply connected to Boston College through my own experiences and those of my children, and it gives both Loretta and me great pleasure to know that we can help the University build its strength in an academic area that's important to us."