A new endowed scholarship has been created to support students who distinguish themselves as leaders in mental wellness.
The Stephanie Becker Fund created the scholarship and endowed it with $150,000 in honor of its namesake and 2006 College graduate Stephanie Becker, who died in 2012. Since its founding, the Stephanie Becker Fund has actively promoted mental health both on and off campus.
Her family, who set up the fund immediately after her death, wants to promote “parity” between physical health and mental health.
A person suffering from a physical injury would not feel ashamed asking for help, but someone suffering from mental illness would not feel as comfortable, said Michael Becker, Stephanie’s brother.
Even though mental illness carries a stigma and often goes untreated, it remains pervasive among college students. Currently, suicide is the third-leading cause of death among people aged 15-24, and one in ten college students have considered suicide.
Penn in particular has grappled with mental health and suicide, especially in recent years. The scholarship’s announcement comes as Penn faces increased scrutiny over mental health issues among students — twelve students have died by suicide over the last four years, and Penn has responded by extending CAPS hours, training faculty to identify mental illness and centralizing resources online, among other things.
Becker, remembering his initial response to his sister’s death, believes there are two options when tragedy strikes: turn inward and grieve, or turn outward and try to prevent similar losses. Just as he and his family founded the Stephanie Becker Fund after Stephanie’s death, the new memorial scholarship is, in many ways, a response to the recent string of suicides on Penn’s campus.
“We are hoping that in creating this Stephanie Becker Fund scholarship, we can have a direct impact on UPenn’s campus,” he said. “And ultimately, we hope that leads to fewer tragedies like this in the future.”
The scholarship will be part of Penn’s named scholarship program, in which students who qualify for financial aid are paired with donors who fund their aid based on the student’s interests and goals. Typically, scholarships are paid out to students in lieu of a portion of the grants they would typically receive from Penn’s financial aid. The scholarship, in total $150,000, is funded equally by the Stephanie Becker Fund and by Penn and will be awarded to a student every year.
Scholarships of this type are typically funded through an initial gift, but continue in perpetuity through endowment returns and continued support from the donors.
“What we hope is that they [endowed scholarships] are a philanthropic home at Penn for the family to continue to build for years to come,” said Maryann O’Leary Salas, director of development for undergraduate financial aid.
This is not the first time gifts associated with Stephanie Becker have supported mental health initiatives at Penn. Friends of Stephanie's in the Class of 2006 made a donation to fund specific I-CARE training sessions in Stephanie’s memory — multi-hour training sessions offered to various Penn groups that teach how to identify and manage mental health issues.
This spring, CAPS plans to offer a few sessions in which Stephanie’s life will be “prominently highlighted” — perhaps for campus organizations in which she was involved, such as the Greek community.
Meeta Kumar, Director of Outreach and Prevention at CAPS, who has worked with the Becker Fund to facilitate the I-CARE trainings, hopes the new memorial scholarship will shed light on the important issue of mental health.
“I think it grabs people’s attention, I think it speaks to, again, important commitment towards this issue,” Kumar said.