Donor Story

Getting to Know You

UNM Presidential Scholarship Program Connects Generous Donors with Stellar Students

BY Hilary Mayall Jetty

Posted July 14, 2017

The UNM Presidential Scholarship Program (PSP) celebrated impressive milestones this year—40 years and over 4,000 students sponsored. Outstanding young students from New Mexico’s diverse communities have received substantial financial support from the PSP since 1976, enabling them to concentrate on their studies and serve with campus and community organizations. They are our future leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs.

Ellen and Evan Ashcraft await the train in Aguas Calientes, below Machu Picchu. The Ashcrafts visited Peru last May with the Fuller Center for Housing, similar to Habitat for Humanity. It was their fifth trip abroad to build homes in disadvantaged communities.

Thanks to benevolent individuals and corporations, over 450 undergraduates are Presidential Scholars this year. Ellen and Evan Ashcraft of Tijeras, N.M., have contributed to the PSP since 2002, when Ellen was employed as a publications editor at the UNM Foundation.

“I was asked to proofread letters that were being sent out to potential PSP donors,” she remarked, “and realized ‘hey, we could do that.’” Evan agreed, and thanks to the generous matching gift program at Sandia National Labs (SNL) the Ashcrafts have sponsored two PSP scholars every year since. The couple attends the annual PSP dinner each spring, and enjoys visiting with other Presidential Scholars whose sponsors can’t attend or whose scholarships are the legacies of deceased donors.

The Ashcrafts try to see their students several times a year. “We’ve had them up to our house, and they rarely turn down an opportunity to meet for dinner at the Frontier,” Ellen laughed, “but it’s not always possible due to busy schedules. The letters they send help us get to know them better. We learn about what they’re thinking and working on as they progress toward graduation, as well as any changes in majors and career paths.”

Because Ellen and Evan live in a rural area, they’ve enjoyed being matched with students from Capitan, Edgewood and Farmington, among other New Mexico communities. They cherish the connections they forge with students over time. Nine students have benefited from the Ashcrafts’ sponsorship throughout their undergraduate years. As a result, Ellen and Evan have watched them mature academically and personally. “We’ve made some close friends through the years,” Evan noted. “We’ve been invited to graduation parties and weddings, and have heard from people in graduate school, and even received Christmas letters.”

A PSP sponsorship offers donors this rare kind of opportunity: a direct and impressive experience of the impact of their gift. There is also the prospect of mentoring scholars, as the Ashcrafts have discovered, sharing knowledge and wisdom across generations. Ellen is an independent Mary Kay sales director, and Evan will soon retire from SNL, but they intend to remain PSP supporters.

“It’s about personal connections with kids,” Evan said, “and over four years, watching them figure out who they are as they grow into young adults. It’s very enjoyable.” Ellen wholeheartedly concurs, adding, “As sponsors, Evan and I are grateful to play a very small part in their transformation.”

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