Donors and Scholarship Recipients Share Stories of Success

Scholarship recipients Jaelynne King and Raphael Roman spoke during NJIT's annual scholarship brunch.

It’s always a poignant sight: a group of donors -- older, successful and generous -- meeting with the students -- young, nervous and grateful -- who benefit from their donations. 

And that was the sight on April 22, when donors came to NJIT to have brunch with the students whose scholarships they endow.   

The students and donors sat together at formal tables laden with cut flowers and catered food. They talked a little -- and got to know each other a little.

Ymanei Perry with donor Darryl Riley

Ymanei Perry, a senior who majors in chemical engineering, sat next to Darryl Riley, a self-employed consultant and former vice president for Kellogg. She grew up in single-mother home in Newark with two siblings. He graduated from NJIT in 1983 and went onto a successful career in the food industry.  She’s a great student who would not have made it through NJIT without financial help: He’s the donor whose scholarship helped her make it through. And this summer, she’ll start a job at L’Oreal, the manufacturer of makeup, cosmetics and haircare products.

So when it came time to have her photo taken with Riley, she said to him: “I’m so thankful to you. I would not have been able to get this far without you.” And he said to her: “You will do great things in your life, Ymanei. You are talented and you have a plan.”

Scenes like this played themselves many times over during NJIT’s 28th annual scholarship brunch -- when nearly 100 donors met with dozens of scholarship students. In total, donors endow more than $3 million in scholarships that help more than 1,200 students. And on this day, the students had the chance to thank their benefactors. 

Angelica Blanco, a senior who majors in chemical engineering, sat next to Vince DeCaprio, a 1972 NJIT graduate who is a university trustee and a retired president of Vyteris. Also at the table was his wife, Mary Lou. Together the DeCaprios endow scholarships dedicated to helping women who study engineering at NJIT. Blanco holds one of those scholarships. Mary Lou DeCaprio, a former pharmaceutical chemist who now works as a middle school science teacher, is on a mission to attract young women to STEM fields.

And Blanco is excelling in engineering and already has a career in STEM. After she graduates in May, she'll work as an engineer for FM Global, a consulting engineering firm. Blanco comes from an immigrant family -- her father is from Cuba and her mother from Puerto Rico -- and she has two siblings also in college, which she describes as a “huge financial burden” on her parents. So she’s especially grateful to the DeCaprios.

“I am grateful for this scholarship because it has allowed me to pursue my studies without constantly worrying about my finances,” said Blanco. “It has allowed me to take advantage of all of the resources and opportunities that NJIT has to offer and to develop an understanding and appreciation of engineering and science.”

Angelica Blanco with her donors: Vince and Mary Lou DeCaprio.

For Vince DeCaprio, NJIT is a legacy school, with three generations of his family attending the university, beginning with his father, Louis ('54 and '58), and himself  ('72) and now his son Michael, who is a freshman. So when it came time to pick a cause to support, he said they didn’t have to look far, or think twice:  “One of the organizations we feel passionate about supporting is NJIT.”

When he was child, he added, his father had returned from the South Pacific theater of World War II. He worked during the day as a surveyor and draftsman for the city of Paterson. At night, he attended the Newark College of Engineering, where he took classes in mechanical engineering. The GI Bill covered his tuition. His mother managed the household, and raised him, his brother and younger sister while all also supporting her husband’s education.

“My mother told us that when dad got his degree that NCE had a dinner for the grads and their spouses (all women at the time),” recalled DeCaprio. “And the spouses were awarded a Ph.T. degree, which stood for Pushing Hubby Through.  Now, times are a little different and we need to make sure we support women through their education. So, it seemed appropriate that we name our scholarships after my mother -- the Irene DeCaprio Memorial Scholarship for Women in Engineering.  A long title, but it says it all.”

Riley, the donor who supports Perry, also has a close family connection to NJIT. A few decades ago, his mother worked at NJIT. As a longtime staff member, she learned about the value of studying engineering. When it came time for Riley to enter college, he wanted to attend Syracuse University. But she convinced him that NJIT was the superior college that would lead to him having a superior career. He listened to his mother. And she was right. He graduated from NJIT with a degree in chemical engineering in 1983 and rose up to become vice president of Kellogg North America Research, Quality and Technology. After he graduated, Riley kept in touch with the NJIT professors and staff members who had supported him. And when he reached the point in his life when he was financially secure, he honored his mother’s memory by establishing an endowment in her name: the Janet McIntosh Riley Scholarship. That is the scholarship that helped Perry pay for NJIT and get a great job at L’Oreal.

It’s a poignant story; one generation comes to NJIT from humble means and succeeds beyond all measure. That generation then gives back to NJIT to support the next generation who, thanks to their financial support, finds similar professional success.

“When I met Mr. Riley I didn’t know whether to shake his hand or hug him,” said Perry. “But I thanked him from the bottom of my heart and I also asked him for his card. I will always keep him apprised of the strides I make in my career. And I will always be grateful to him for the financial help he gave me when I needed it most.”

At the brunch, President Joel Bloom noted that donations have helped NJIT make an annual economic impact of $1.74 billion on the state of New Jersey. Senior Vice President for University Advancement Charles Dees, Jr. also noted that recent donations have helped create 125 new scholarships for students in need.

Longtime donor Ed Cruz ’63 ’13 HON, who is recently deceased, was honored during the event with a tribute by his daughter Robin Cruz McClearn. The event concluded with touching speeches by scholarship recipients Raphael Roman and Jaelynne King.

By Robert Florida