Memory of student expands Yale financial aid

By Katie Odland, Yale Herald, Sept. 21, 2007. Read the article at the Yale Herald online.

Stationed on the wall, at the top of the brand new, sealed and varnished wooden staircase leading to the Silliman dining hall, an inscription reads: “In memory of Alexander MacBurney Byers Jr., who was graduated from the Sheffield Scientific School in the Class of 1894. This building was erected by his parents 1903.”

Perhaps the predominant impression is that Yale was entirely built by wealthy, living alumni. But memoriam is perhaps a larger, if less obvious, presence on campus. From the J. Willard Gibbs or Osborn Memorial Laboratories to the monolithic Sterling Memorial Library, the power of memory has provided some of Yale’s most noticeable features. This year, it is poised to shape the Yale campus again, but not through any architectural statement. Instead, the Promise Fund, incorporated by the Alexander Capelluto Foundation, in memory of the class of 2008 Berkeleyite who died in the summer of 2006, hopes to change Yale academics by augmenting Yale’s financial aid packages with funding for various supplemental, yet essential, course supplies. The fund will be available for members of the Class of 2010 this year, with future expansions dependent on the fund’s success in the 2007-2008 year.

In seeking to honor Alexander’s alma mater, the Capelluto family immediately looked for ways to directly benefit students’ experience. Alexander’s sister Katherine Capelluto, BK ’04, found herself looking at a school with a robust financial aid package that seemed to neglect what was not dubbed essential. “I had noticed,” she explained, “that financial aid covered all the necessities but stopped at class supplies.” It is a setback that she sees as “a glaring need on campus.” Thus, the Promise Fund’s raison d’etre is to alleviate this need by providing grants for class-related materials not included in typical financial aid packages. These include art supplies, books, and musical instruments. Since the fund’s launch last week by email to Yale’s sophomore class, the fund has “received tons of emails from students just expressing their gratitude for launching [the fund], pinpointing the fact that they would not have taken the class that they can now perhaps take because of the provided funding,” Capelluto said.

Students and professors alike know the expense of learning. Often the price of textbooks and course packets alone will influence a student’s decision on taking a course of interest. Amy Hungerford’s English 431: “American Fiction since 1940: Four Writers,” a class with a notoriously extensive and expensive materials list, is one that some students sometimes shy away from, due simply to the cost. With eighteen novels and a course packet, Hungerford’s class can cost upwards of $400. “People of means don’t often notice the ways that not having enough money can inhibit one’s daily ability to work,” Hungerford said. Similar situations might easily pop up for low-income students in many classes offered by the Art Department. Although art students can borrow a camera from Yale’s Digital Media Center for the Arts, the purchase of film, photo paper, and developing materials–which, over a semester, can cost nearly $500–is not subsidized by the University.

Caesar Storlazzi, the University Director of Student Financial Services and Director of Student Employment, remembers the Capelluto’s hope for the Promise Fund, “to do something that would have a direct and immediate effect on students rather than the standard financial aid [approach].” Storlazzi noted that before the Capelluto’s the financial aid office worked with the NCAA’s Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund to provide additional funding to athletes with needs such as equipment; however, there was no counterpart for the arts or for course books. In each financial aid package, a set stipend is included for books and personal expenses. However, Storlazzi explained, “We don’t build into student budgets the expense of [more specialized supplies]. If a student were to come to [the financial aid] office to request additional funding it would be given through a loan–or additional work on campus.” Before the Promise Fund, therefore, students of low income hoping to take a class with a hefty reading list or a less traditional set of materials had to pay for it in additional post-collegiate debt or in extra shifts at a campus job.

Without doubt, the Fund, with, as Storlazzi stated, “its close Yale ties because of the death of Alexander Capelluto and the desire of his parents to do something that would help Yale students and that would be a fitting memorial to their son,” will no doubt be a welcome addition to Yale’s financial recourses. Yet as Hungerford said, if “these grants honor the most basic aspects of being a student–reading and writing, and being free of enough of life’s worries that one can think instead about a poem, problem set, or a place on the other side of the earth,” why were these costs left uncovered before? The administration has no answer; indeed, two years ago, in announcing a marked reduction in the expected contribution of lower-income parents to their children’s education, President Richard Levin, GRD ’74, remarked, “Yale has a strong commitment to the broadest access.” Yet without the tragedy and memory of Alex Capelluto, access to the Yale College Programs of Study might still be inaccessible to a more-than-appreciable few.

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