Heartfelt Connections: GW Scholarship Dinner Brings Donors and Students Together

The annual Celebration of Scholarships and Fellowships event highlights the power of philanthropy.

April 10, 2024

BOT member Michelle Rubin, junior Max Wiener and Pam Rubin.

GW Trustee Michelle Rubin (l), junior Max Wiener and Pam Rubin. (Photos: Abby Greenawalt)

When you ask people to recall the best gift they’ve ever received, they might pause for a moment before describing a toy robot Santa tucked under the tree one Christmas or a gold necklace a beloved aunt gifted at a birthday party. But if you ask Trustee Michelle Rubin, B.A. ’91, her answer will be a little bit different: The best gift she’s ever received is her education.

Rubin’s parents, Mark and Pam, never had the opportunity to graduate from college, but they understood the value of a quality education, so through hard work and sacrifice, they ensured that all three of their children could pursue their academic dreams.

“My parents believed that education is the greatest gift you can give someone, so it was never a matter of if we were going to college, but where we were going,” Rubin said. “My mom always said, ‘You have to go and get the piece of paper,’ meaning a degree. So I did.”

Inspired by her parents’ selflessness, Rubin in 2022 created the Mark and Pam Rubin Scholarship in memory of her late father and in honor of her mother. The endowed scholarship provides crucial support to aspiring George Washington University students facing financial obstacles, allowing Rubin to invest in their future just as her parents invested in hers.

“What better way to honor your parents—the people who paid for your education—than with an endowed scholarship in their name?” Rubin said.

Rubin and her mother were among the more than 275 guests at the annual Celebration of Scholarships and Fellowships Dinner on April 5. The event, which unites scholarship donors and recipients, marked the first time that Rubin and her mom met junior Max Wiener, the inaugural recipient of the Mark and Pam Rubin Scholarship.

Wiener—who’s majoring in business analytics with a concentration in hospitality management—said the financial support from Rubin has given him the freedom to focus on his academics and extracurriculars, including his upcoming summer internship at Hilton’s corporate office in McLean, Va.

“In my case, a lot of the responsibility falls on my shoulders for making sure I can sustain myself in the summer here, so taking that burden off of tuition has really enabled me to have more options,” he said. “It’s not easy being a college student, so having someone recognize all the hard work that we do and help us get past those potential financial hardships means a lot.”

GW President Ellen M. Granberg addressed the gathering, noting that she’s been looking forward to attending the celebration since joining GW last summer.

“Since coming to GW, I have heard from so many people about how special and inspiring this event is, and I am thrilled to be here,” Granberg said. “Tonight is about recognition, gratitude and, most importantly, celebration.

“It’s a time for us to come together and celebrate our talented students and their achievements, recognize the amazing strength and support of their families, and, of course, honor and thank our incredible donors, whose commitment and generosity continue to open doors to a world-class education.”

President Ellen Granberg with student speakers from the annual Celebration of Scholarships and Fellowships Dinner.
President Ellen Granberg (second from left) with student speakers senior Yaseen Shah (l), sophomore Andrea Mendoza-Melchor and third-year GW Law student Brittany Benjamin from the annual Celebration of Scholarships and Fellowships Dinner.

Student speakers also shared their stories during the event. Yaseen Shah, a senior from Nevada and a recipient of the Josephine R. Shepard Scholarship, talked about his determination to pursue higher education beyond his home state, despite financial constraints.

“Even though I was still taking on thousands in student loans, I was committed to maximizing every opportunity a GW experience would offer,” said Shah, who after graduation will join Clearsight Advisors as an investment banking analyst.

But at the beginning of his senior year at GW, Shah didn’t receive the merit aid he had anticipated, leaving him anxious about financing his final year. It was then that he discovered he had been awarded the Shepard Scholarship.

“No words can display and describe the relief and the joy I felt,” he said. “I’m grateful to endowments like the Josephine Shepard Scholarship for enabling students facing wide financial gaps to attend GW.”

Sophomore Andrea Mendoza-Melchor, a recipient of the Schneider-Taylor Family Endowed Scholarship, recounted how growing up in a small border town in California made “anything ambitious feel out of reach,” including college.

And when Mendoza-Melchor lost her mother to cancer her senior year of high school, her dream of attending college felt impossible…until she received an email from GW informing her of her scholarship.

“It was in that moment that I got my hope back.” she said. “So, I sincerely thank you. But it’s not just the woman standing here thanking you. It’s the little girl back at home in Calexico, playing being a reporter with her dolls, thinking that was the closest she’d ever get… It’s so many Mendoza and Melchor ancestors who thank you for what you’ve done to restore hope for me and for them.”

Donna Arbide, the vice president for development and alumni relations, commended the scholarship recipients on their achievements and thanked the donors for their generosity.

“In this room this evening, the donors have created over 49 named scholarships at GW, and helped more than 250 students just this year,” Arbide said. “Through your selfless actions, you demonstrate how citizens have both the power and the influence to change the lives of individuals and their families.”

Scholarship and fellowship support stand as a cornerstone of GW's mission. In 2021, GW launched Open Doors: The Centuries Initiative for Scholarships & Fellowships to expand access to GW. Since then, average annual contributions from donors to scholarships and fellowships have increased 32% compared to the previous 3 years. The average annual donor contribution to undergraduate need-based endowed scholarships grew by 74% in FY21-23 over FY18-20 thanks to GW’s Third Century Scholarship Endowment Match.

And any scholarship gift, no matter how small, can have a ripple effect, Rubin said.

“I think people believe that they have to have millions of dollars or make a huge commitment, but that’s not true. No gift is too small,” Rubin said. “If you believe in education—and especially if you were a scholarship recipient yourself—and you have the capacity to give back, why wouldn't you?”

Learn more about how GW is expanding access to the transformative power of a GW education through scholarships and fellowships. Open Doors: The Centuries Initiative for Scholarships & Fellowships charts a course to expand opportunity for the next generation of leaders at GW.