Alum's Gift Supports Community Service, Judaic Studies

By Grace Merritt

Stephen Cohen

Stephen Cohen '65 (CLAS)

Stephen Cohen led a quiet, intensely private life in southern California, but his legacy at UConn is larger than life.

Stephen '65 (CLAS) left $4.1 million to UConn to support two scholarship funds and programming in the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life.

"We couldn't be more excited and more grateful," says Joe Briody, UConn's associate director in student activities. "This allows us to recognize the work of more students and give a higher amount per student to help defray the cost of college."

Stephen started contributing to these funds years ago, but this new estate gift dramatically elevates them. With this major infusion of funds from his estate, his retirement plan, and an annuity, he'll help many more students afford college and will raise the caliber of the Judaic Center for decades to come.

"This is a very generous gift and will help us tremendously going forward," says Sebastian Wogenstein, interim director of the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life.

"It will also allow us to further strengthen our programming and really put us on the map compared to other excellent Judaic studies programs across the country," he says.

One of the scholarship funds is earmarked for students concentrating in Judaic studies, while the other is for those committed to eliminating bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination.

The Cohen scholarships, established in the 1990s, have already had an impact. The Martha and Albert Cohen Scholarship Fund, named after Stephen's parents, has helped many community service–minded student leaders afford college and inspired them to continue their community spirited work in their careers. Over the years, these students have held hunger drives, worked at animal shelters, worked to end homelessness, and dedicated summers to the Hole in the Wall Camp for terminally ill children, among other public service endeavors.

One student, Claire Simonich, '13 (BUS) (CLAS), of Oakland, California, says her volunteer work at UConn inspired her to pursue a career in public service.

"The scholarship allowed me to graduate debt-free and go to law school, where I became and remain committed to public-interest work," she says.

Winning the award was also a confidence booster, Claire says.

"I think getting scholarships at UConn, including this one, helped me feel like I was accomplished and capable of accomplishing great things. It inspired me to reach for higher goals, like applying to Ivy League law schools," says Claire, who graduated from Yale Law School in 2016.

The causes that Stephen chose to foster through his scholarships reflect the values he was brought up with, according to his brother, Robert.

Their mother, Martha, was widowed early on and supported her two sons by working at an electronics factory in Waterbury.

"She always raised us to follow her example," Robert Cohen '67 (CLAS) says. "She had limited means but tried to help where she could. She brought us up to respect and treat people equally, including those who were less privileged than others. I know that carried Stephen forward."

Robert co-sponsored one of the Cohen endowments. He and his wife, Barbara Sklar Cohen '67 (CLAS), joined Stephen in creating the fund benefiting the Center for Judaic Studies.

Stephen moved out to California shortly after graduating from UConn and took a job as a computer programmer at Hughes Aircraft Co., his brother says. He then went to graduate school at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where he earned a degree in computer science. Stephen later attended law school at Pepperdine University and went into corporate business law for Mitsubishi Corp. He spent the last 30 years of his life working for the County of Los Angeles as chief of regulatory affairs review for information technology.

Beyond his professional life, Stephen was a strong advocate for programs that focused on and fostered tolerance and understanding among people, Robert says. He cared deeply for others, and his generous gift to his alma mater will continue to change and improve lives forever.

To learn how you can follow in Stephen Cohen's footsteps and support your passions at UConn, contact Gregory Knott at (860) 336-1468 or giftplanning@foundation.uconn.edu.