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Scholarships: donate and apply

Ab Initio
|Written By Ted Flett
Scholarships: donate and apply
Author Ted Flett with scholarship donor Vaughn MacLellan and his family.

So, here’s a neat guy. University of New Brunswick law alumnus Vaughn MacLellan, a partner at DLA Piper’s Toronto office, was recently at Ludlow Hall with his family to announce a $100,000 scholarship endowment.

“This gift is about both the past and the future,” he said to a gathering of university administration, faculty, and students.

“First, it’s about the past because I’ve been very fortunate in life. I have a wonderful family, great friends, and a rewarding career that has provided me with good opportunities. And while it would be tempting to think that this has been because of natural abilities and hard work, I know that it’s really because of the good fortune I’ve had to have a loving family, supportive friends, inspiring teachers, professors and mentors, and close colleagues.”

This isn’t MacLellan’s first demonstration of generosity. For one semester each year, he commutes weekly to teach UNB law’s corporate transactions course, bringing his invaluable knowledge back to the school.

And annually, UNB law already awards a scholarship to an upper-year student thanks to his delight in parting with cash for the right reason. The MacLellan Family Scholarship recognizes a student in a leadership position with a good academic standing who “made a meaningful extra-curricular contribution to the intellectual and social environment of the Faculty.”

I am proud this year to have been that recipient, and it was rewarding to meet the donors — MacLellan and his family — during their visit to the campus.

“I am proud” is horribly clichéd, but it correctly captures the warm-heartedness I felt meeting the folks who deemed it more important to help a student following in MacLellan’s legal path than any of the many things the money dedicated to a scholarship endowment could otherwise go towards. A lavish vacation. A cottage. A car.

But, for MacLellan, who fondly remembers the professors who supported and motivated him, it’s simple: “When you’re the beneficiary of this kind of good fortune, I think it’s important to honour that past, and to give back so that others can in turn receive the support and encouragement that everyone needs.”

The gift was accompanied by a call to action.

“We hope that this gift will help to motivate other alumni,” he said. “Motivate them to support this faculty and this university. To give what they can financially, but to also give of themselves and support and champion UNB in every way they can. They’ll be better for it, UNB will be better for it, and the province will be better for it.

I am pleased to echo the request. Scholarships are important to students, and the benefits extend far beyond just the cash, nice as that is.

Scholarships can help to expand a student’s network. Last year, I was equally proud to receive the inaugural Class of 2001 Scholarship. Among the donors is Rory Barnable, a Toronto lawyer who recently stepped away from years of insurance litigation practice, most recently as a partner at McCague Borlack LLP, to start up Barnable Law PC.

Barnable was an invaluable contact for me as I prepared for last year’s Toronto Bay Street recruitment process, providing advice, insights, and answering a bevy of my questions. The resource was particularly beneficial as a law student in the Maritimes. Most UNB law students are East Coasters and gunning for nearby jobs at one of Atlantic Canada’s big three firms. Consequently, the law school community lacks the same Toronto insights that would naturally emerge at an Ontario law school with many students aspiring to work on Bay Street and Toronto connections through faculty members and alumni.

We have since met in person during my summer job at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP to continue the exchange.

My introduction to and rapport with Barnable as a result of his generosity has filled a knowledge gap. Wanda Foster, UNB Law’s admissions and scholarships officer, says this connection between donor and student is becoming more common.

“Recent donors want to be involved, which is really helpful to our students and it’s a huge plus,” she observes. “These donors want to remain active in the school by contributing money towards the scholarship, plus wanting to meet the students and wanting to keep that UNB connection going. More and more, students are seeing the benefit of carrying that contact into articling and beyond.”

And, fortunately, scholarship donor interest is high. Peter Coates, UNB’s director of development and donor relations, says that, since 2000, the proportion of philanthropic support that is directed to scholarships and bursaries at the university versus, for example, brick-and-mortar initiatives has jumped to 60 per cent from 40 per cent of the monies raised.

“Many donors recognize the increased financial burden that students across Canada are carrying today, with costs that are much higher than they incurred when they were students,” he says. “Scholarships and bursaries are also an ideal way for donors to see the direct impact of their support.”

Scholarships can also mean employment. Neil Guthrie confirms the sway of scholarships in the pursuit of a coveted summer job. The director of professional development for Bennett Jones LLP’s Ontario operations estimates he and his team weed through 800 2L applications for seven summer positions and another 400 for two 1L spots.

“Scholarships make a serious impact,” he says. “We pay close attention, especially where it is a case of merit plus financial need; where, for example, there’s a story of a smart kid from a blue-collar background.”

Though pleased with the quantity and quality of scholarship applicants, Foster says there could be more. She observes that some law students feel unworthy as we collectively grapple with the inevitable drop in GPA from undergrads given law schools’ crushing grading scheme.

“I hear a lot of students say ‘I didn’t really think my GPA was high enough’ or ‘I didn’t really think I had the makings of the criteria to apply’ and my response is often ‘Wow, you do!’” she says.

“There is a wide variety of scholarships with different criteria. Some scholarships will ask for extra-curricular and leadership, while some will have academic-based criteria. Scholarships will have criteria based on high, strong, solid, and good academic standing, and these ranges run from A+ to C, giving most students a chance to apply.”

Every year, Foster sifts through piles of scholarship applications before sending them off to decision-making committees. When it comes to personal statements, she has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly and offers a few insights.

Firstly, while Foster encourages students to cast the net wide to improve their chances, be mindful of the criteria. Do not blast off a standard form application.

“The reader does not want to see a standard personal statement. That generalization hinders a bit when committees are looking at them because the donor certainly does not want the scholarship to be seen as generic. Try to hit all the bullets of the criteria.”

And customizing doesn’t have to mean reinvention.

“You can tweak your application enough,” she says. “Sometimes, it is as simple as grabbing another paragraph and sticking it in to your personal statement to satisfy the criteria.”

As such, Foster suggests that if students are in a time crunch, they are better off to pick a select number of scholarships and customize those applications than to hit them all with a blanket document.

Her last words: “Pay attention to the deadline!”

In closing: Alumni: please donate! Students: please apply!

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