“It’s been a godsend,” Michael A. Molina, director of the CSTEP and STEP programs, said of the fund. “This money has enabled us to at least try and help students and their families.”
CSTEP is a statewide program that has provided academic support, counseling, internships, scholarships, and research opportunities to minority and economically disadvantaged undergraduates at Fordham since 1987. The CSTEP program, along with its sibling STEP program for junior high and high school students, has been a source of community for many students, especially during the pandemic.
Eight years ago, the Dow family established the Christina Seix Dow College Science and Technology Entry Program Endowed Scholarship Fund with a $2 million gift to help CSTEP students stay at Fordham and graduate from college with little to no debt. Now they are giving an additional $2.5 million to support students who remind them of themselves.
“My wife and I came from very little. For a long time, we’ve felt we’ve been fortunate, and it’s time to pay it forward or pay it back for students who may come from even more difficult situations than we had,” said Robert Dow, a former managing partner at Lord Abbett, an investment management company. “We hope that whatever they do, they’re successful in life. And if they become successful financially, hopefully they’ll think about what gave them a start and pay it forward as well.”
Seix Dow has much in common with the CSTEP students she supports. She’s Puerto Rican, from the Bronx, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Fordham. She was raised in a small apartment with limited resources, but, she has said, was surrounded by a loving family that developed her core values. She became a multimillionaire bond manager, eventually forming her own investment management firm. She later founded the Christina Seix Academy, an independent school for underserved children. Seix Dow was among the first class of pioneering women in philanthropy at the inaugural Fordham Women’s Summit in 2017.
About 90 CSTEP students have benefited from the Seix Dow scholarship fund over the past seven years, including recent alumna Arnell Stewart, who delivered the student scholarship speech at the 2018 Women’s Philanthropy Summit.
These students have received significant awards from the scholarship, depending on individual need, to help pay for the full cost of tuition. Molina estimates that over the next decade, approximately 300 to 400 more students will benefit from the additional $2.5 million added to the scholarship fund.
The scholarships are a significant gift for the CSTEP students, many of whom are thousands of dollars in debt, said Renaldo D. Alba, associate director of the CSTEP and STEP programs. They not only help graduates leave Fordham in good financial health, but also prepare them to give back to their own communities.
“Our students often require graduate or professional school training, and at that level, there’s little to no financial aid. But if they’re in good [financial]health after graduation, they can take on additional loans at the next level. And if they do well and manage their loan debt as graduate students, they’re more likely to consider working in fields that may not be as lucrative in compensation, in communities that often don’t have the resources or money, because they don’t have to pay off these loans,” Alba said. “A scholarship of this magnitude is so significant for students like these that are naturally inclined to stay in their community.”
Among the Seix Dow scholarship recipients is Leslie Abreu, a Dominican student from the Bronx who realized that Fordham was her “dream school” while attending the adjacent Fordham High School for the Arts, where she became class valedictorian.
“At one point, I was considering not going to my dream school because of finances,” said Abreu, who is currently the only employed member of her immediate family. “Receiving help like that gives you reassurance that you are on the right path.”
Life hasn’t been easy for Abreu. Her father passed away in her senior year of high school, but he had encouraged his daughter to apply to Fordham. In her three years at the University, she has tutored middle and high school students in math as a STEP tutor and peer counselor for pre-college students and advised two seventh graders in the Mentoring Latinas program. Someday, Abreu plans on following Seix Dow and her husband’s footsteps and paying it forward.
“[Seix Dow’s story] reassured me that that path is possible,” said Abreu, a psychology student on the five-year teaching track. “And the fact that she has been able to help people like us shows me that I can also do that in the future.”