Fall 2013 | Article by Benjamin Morris
Elsa Freiman Angrist (Newcomb ’66) vividly remembers her time as an undergraduate. She arrived on campus in 1962 from her home in Alexandria, LA, with a desire not just to learn, but to make the very most out of her experience. “I had a wonderful time at Tulane,” the mathematics and French major says with a smile. “A year abroad in France, a spot on the College Bowl, it was so much fun.” As Tulanian magazine profiled several years ago, however, Angrist’s years were more than just fun: the honors graduate didn’t just have a spot on the College Bowl, she led it to a nationally televised finish her senior year.
All of which she looks back on with fondness now, but the going wasn’t always so easy. The challenges, particularly at that time, were steep. Not only did young women in liberal arts majors seem almost destined for secretarial positions, Angrist says, but uncertainty about women pursuing scientific subjects was present even at the post-graduate level. After finishing at Tulane, Angrist went to Northwestern University for a master’s degree in math. “Once I got there, which was at this point during the Vietnam War,” Angrist recalls, “someone asked me if I didn’t feel guilty for taking some other guy’s place in graduate school—so that he wouldn’t have to go to war. I’m so grateful that now, people’s attitudes have begun to change.”
Angrist herself has been at the forefront of that change, working in a variety of technical sectors after graduation. After a decade spent working in federal government agencies, she then transitioned into the nonprofit sector, then finally became an independent consultant and subcontractor back to the government once more. Her experience in computing spans a range of subjects: programming, simulation, systems architecture, and information security among them. While she enjoyed her years in public service, Angrist says, part of her preferred the speed of the private sector. “I was a very fast worker,” she says, “I could get the job done quickly. In the private sector, once you finish one project, there’s no standing around—they’ll find more work for you to do.” After nearly forty years, she finally “eased” into retirement in 2006.
“Eased,” she says with a laugh, “because I’ve still got all these ideas.” Indeed, shortly before her retirement she went back to school at George Mason University, to earn a second master’s, this time in history. It was around this time that she and her husband were inspired to make gifts to their respective alma maters: his to Amherst, hers to Tulane-Newcomb. The twist, however, compared to many donors, was that they dreamed of giving over time: to grow their gifts in successive years, so that even more students would have opportunities that when she was an undergraduate were almost unimaginable. In 2005, Angrist established the Elsa Freiman Angrist Scholarship Endowed Fund.
Dr. Nicholas J Altiero, Dean of the School of Science and Engineering, stresses the importance of this long-term aspect. “What Elsa has done is something that a lot of alumni giving back should think about. She’s built it and grown it over time—it’s a tremendous commitment and investment in the school,” Altiero says. “The biggest issue in higher education is accessibility and affordability. Scholarships become more and more important all the time. Without scholarship funds like this, many students simply wouldn’t be able to come.”
Beth Turner, Executive Director of Legal Affairs and Philanthropic Advisor for Tulane, makes the personal connection between donors and their recipients. “Elsa is such a role model,” Turner says. “She takes great joy in giving and seeing the impact of her philanthropy—every year we’re able to give out larger scholarship awards, because she’s continued to contribute to her fund. She is a smart philanthropist who gets greater tax savings by giving appreciated stock. And, although she has provided for her fund in her estate plans, setting it up in advance has allowed her to see the students’ benefits now, in real-time. She would not have had that joy if the endowment was from a bequest.”
But don’t take the administration’s word for it. Janelle Cyprich (’15), a junior pre-med neuroscience major and recipient of an Angrist scholarship, weighed her decision to come to Tulane from Pennsylvania almost entirely on this basis. “It was the main thing,” Cyprich says. “When I came to visit, I loved the culture and the city and the community service aspect of the campus … but I wouldn’t have been able to attend Tulane without Ms. Angrist’s scholarship.” But what came as the greatest surprise, Cyprich recalls, was learning in her freshman year that it wasn’t Tulane alone that had made her education possible: it was a person.
“I had no idea these gifts came from individuals,” Cyprich says, “that they came from real people. We had a banquet where they explained how it all came about, and I was really surprised to learn that it wasn’t just the School [of Science and Engineering]. It was so generous of alumni to do that.” In Cyprich’s case, the gifts are passed on: among other activities, she’s active in TUNA, the Tulane University Neuroscience Association, which goes into local high schools in New Orleans and educates students, particularly young women, about careers in science and medicine.
For Angrist, it’s just this kind of opportunity that she and her husband had hoped to create. “I just hope these students will be able to complete their education,” she says, “and find a job that is challenging and rewarding, and useful to society.” Nor is she shy towards other prospective donors, who are thinking of making a gift: “It’s one of the most worthwhile things you can do with your resources,” she says. “We in our generation were given a great education that gave us great opportunities, and we have an obligation to pass that on to the next generation.”
So how brightly has the torch been lit? There’s only one place to go for the answer. With the MCAT freshly notched on her belt this summer, and just starting her junior year this fall, Cyprich is exactly halfway through her degree. Asked about her long-term reaction to her scholarship, she pauses for a moment. When finally she speaks, the answer is unequivocal: “Honestly, it made me think about the future,” Cyprich says. “And how I’d like to do that for someone one day.”
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