Alumna’s Funds Empower Students to Overcome Disasters
By: Nick Santangelo
“People don't realize that students may have catastrophic needs,” says Ronnyjane Goldsmith, CLA ‘68, ‘70, ‘81. “In my case, I didn't know I had to pay for books. I didn't have any money to buy books. I didn't know what to do. I think people don't realize that some students are just getting by, pandemic or not.”
In 2011, the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) alumna three times over created Temple University’s 57 Cent Fund, named after Hattie May Wiatt, a young parishioner of Temple’s founder, Russel Conwell. As the story goes, when Wiatt passed at five years old in 1886, she gifted the 57 cents she had to her name toward the construction of a Sunday school.
Dr. Conwell used the power of this story to auction off the 57 pennies as keepsakes while also soliciting hundreds of thousands in additional donations. It was this funding that allowed him to construct the Baptist Temple, the genesis for Temple University.
I'd like to make it OK for students to admit that they have a problem
Though 57 cents may not have been much even in 1886, it reminds Goldsmith of how she could barely scrape together the 25 cents needed to take the bus to Temple in the ‘60s and ‘70s. When an 18-year-old Goldsmith was surprised to learn she had to buy her books, she didn’t know how she could afford to continue her studies. Thankfully, she got financial aid, but paying for school remained a struggle, one she kept to herself.
“I would never have told anyone,” says Goldsmith. “I mean, I tried to pretend everything was OK. I'd like to make it OK for students to admit that they have a problem. I think that's the other side of the point, besides people giving to the 57 Cent Fund, students feeling comfortable asking for help.”
Chance of Success
In creating the 57 Cent Fund a decade ago, Goldsmith’s goal was to provide help to students who, just as she did in her youth, find themselves facing unexpected financial hardship.
“The fund helps students, it gives them a chance,” she explains. “And with that chance, you'll never know how much they’ll succeed.”
Goldsmith succeeded quite a bit in her life. During the first act of her career, she spent 25 years as a public servant in Pennsylvania, Maryland and California. Goldsmith protected employee pensions and advanced policies that prevented politicians and special interests from fraudulently benefiting from tax dollars.
In her second act, she became an entrepreneur, building a private investment management business that managed close to $100 million. Goldsmith leveraged that experience and success to begin her philanthropic work, leading to the founding of her first Temple scholarship in 2007.
Goldsmith’s success story, along with those of 29 other Temple alumni, will be chronicled in more detail in her forthcoming winter 2021 book, Temple Made. For 14 years running, her funds have ensured even more students have the chance to build their own success stories equally worthy of such profiling.
An Endowed Legacy
Like the 57 Cent Fund, the SIG Scholarship (Straw into Gold) has small-dollar origins. It sprang out of Goldsmith giving $100 to charity for each client that was referred to her business. Each year since 2007, the endowed award has gone to an outstanding CLA student who has lost one or both of their parents.
Speaking from her own experience, Goldsmith says that, like financial hardship, the loss of a parent is, “something that students don’t like to talk about.” Goldsmith aims to both lessen the burden of discussing such a devastating loss while easing the financial hardship it can create.
She recalls attending the first award ceremony for the SIG Scholarship.
“It was very moving seeing this audience,” recounts Goldsmith. “And the reason I went was because the worst thing in the world is to get an award and there's no one in the audience to applaud.”
Due to the nature of the award, Goldsmith knew she had to be there to give that applause.
“This is over 10 years ago, and it still brings tears to my eyes, thinking about it. It was one of the best experiences I had at Temple University, seeing the awards of those scholarships to such worthy students.”
To prevent financial hardship from interfering with students completing their education, please support the 57 Cent Fund.