Awardees and ARCS members wearing masks indoors and posing for group photo
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New scholarship agreement helps graduate students in the sciences

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The University of Pittsburgh’s partnership with a unique all-women, all-volunteer philanthropic organization is getting deeper, stronger and planning for perpetuity.

For nearly two decades, the Pittsburgh chapter of the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Foundation has awarded Pitt graduate students in the sciences three-year, $15,000 scholar awards. The unrestricted nature of the grants, which means awardees can spend the money on anything they need for their studies, makes them unusual and highly sought-after.

Until this school year, the awards have been funded through individual donors giving money each year. But under a new agreement between Pitt and ARCS, donors now have the option of creating an endowed fund to ensure students for generations to come receive the financial support they need to be successful in graduate school.

Jeanne Berdik, founding member and first president of the ARCS Pittsburgh chapter, likens an endowed fund to a retirement fund.

“Just like an individual can’t depend on having an annual income for the rest of one’s life, neither can an organization expect to have annual gifts from an individual forever,” said Berdik. “We want to make sure we have a ‘retirement plan’ for the organization focused on the current cadre of donors as they step back from making annual gifts. Hence the idea of building endowed funds.”

Endowed funds usually do not begin to pay out awards until they are fully funded. What’s special about this agreement is that Pitt has chosen to offer the scholarship before it’s fully funded. 

Nursing PhD candidate Megan Kazakoff is the beneficiary of the first ARCS endowed scholar award created under this arrangement.

“In order for me to cover my tuition, I need to work more than 20 hours a week as a teacher’s assistant and a research assistant, which is great because that helps with my professional experiences. But there is so much more to furthering my education,” Kazakoff said. “My unrestricted ARCS scholar award allows me to attend outside lectures and conferences that are incredibly valuable to my development above and beyond the regular courses so I can get the most out of the PhD program.”

This type of unrestricted funding is rarely available and provides much-needed support that is often a game-changer for this country’s next generation of researchers.

Kazakoff is working with the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Pitt to enroll UPMC patients in a study that will collect tissue and then look at the molecules that are being released in the wound.

Carol Stockman (A&S ’99G) is among the donors who endowed the fund supporting Kazakoff. She moved to Pittsburgh in the 1990s to earn a PhD in economics from Pitt. She joined ARCS Foundation in 2008 and has been making gifts annually to support graduate students.

Stockman is shifting her annual giving for a few years to endow a fund. She likes that the gift will automate what she has been doing philanthropically even after she is gone or focused on other charitable giving. She and the other donors say they appreciate the University’s commitment to awarding the grant while the endowment becomes fully funded. Under the new agreement, ARCS will allow chapter members, individually or in small groups, to commit to making a $100,000 gift over as many as five years to endow a scholar award.

“We are delighted with the bridge funding arrangement,” Berdik said. “We think it is a great incentive. I’d love to see half our donors at any given time funding an endowed scholar award and the other half making annual gifts. It’s a great way to pass this organization to the next group of women donors while ensuring its future.”

Want to learn more or donate?

Visit the Pitt Giving website or contact the Pittsburgh Chapter of the ARCS Foundation at Pittsburgh.funddevelopment [at] to make a gift through the ARCS Foundation that will support Pitt’s core mission of improving the world through knowledge.


— Mark Nootbaar