A Lab alumna remembers how a teacher ignited her imagination, while another fondly recalls the kindness and support of a tight-knit group of classmates, still close after decades. A parent sees the light of discovery in the eye of his youngest child, or feels a flash of admiration and wonder when his teenager describes a school triumph or wins an argument with poise and conviction… In so many different ways, the power of the Lab experience transforms lives every day.
Sammer Marzouk, ’20, is among Lab’s most recent graduates and benefitted from a scholarship during his years at U-High. Sammer was passionate about biology at Lab and studied Alzheimer’s disease in a UChicago professor’s lab. Now a student at Harvard majoring in Chemical and Physical Biology, he has again found his way into a lab, working on skin cancer research while also preparing for the MCAT. When Sammer thinks about the transformative power of a Lab education, he sees amazing people as the most important thing—teachers and the friends he made at Lab remain a critical part of his life. Reflecting on the financial aid that made it possible for him to attend Lab, Sameer notes, “The scholarship had a great impact on my life, giving me the opportunity to learn at a level I never thought possible and expanding what I could study and where I could go in my future.”
Marian Scheffler, ’39, is one of Lab’s oldest living alumni. She is also part of an alumni family; her brother, David Ellbogen, graduated in the Class of 1938 and her daughter, Jill Scheffler Goldhamer, graduated from Lab in 1968. When Marian reflects today on her experience at Lab, a key realization is that “Lab taught me how to think,” and she knows this was true for her brother too, and for her daughter 30 years later. Indeed, the process of teaching young people how to think is one that still unfolds countless times a day at Lab.
Marian’s favorite teacher was Ida DePencier, who taught in the Lower School for 33 years and died in 1998 at age 105. Marian remembers DePencier as extraordinarily connected and personable—an educator who excited fifth graders with lessons on the Teutonic invasions and remembered the students she ran into in Hyde Park for decades after her retirement.
In DePencier’s honor, Lab named its alumni giving society, which recognizes alumni donors who give $1,000 plus annually. It is fitting that a woman who made such an impact on so many lives at Lab would be memorialized through a giving society whose alumni donors drive impact in financial aid and other areas supported by philanthropy at Lab.
Irene Reed, ’92, Lab’s Executive Director of Admissions and Financial Aid, observes, “Over the last few years at Lab, we have expanded our campus, building and repurposing buildings to ensure that we can recruit a diverse student body and continue to offer young people at Lab a transformative educational experience. Now, within the walls of this expanded campus, we are highly focused on strengthening our commitment to financial aid, to make sure we can support all of our students and families. Today, we are building individuals, and we are building a community. In both these goals, I see financial aid as critical to the present and future of Lab.” Articulating why she supports financial aid herself as a donor to Lab, Reed continues, “I truly believe that financial aid changes lives.”
This year Harry Bims, ’81, chose to pay forward the gift of a Lab education for students from the south side of Chicago with a passion for STEM fields. Bims, who earned his PhD in electrical engineering at Stanford and recently joined Lab’s Alumni Association Executive Board, has pledged $25,000 over five years to establish the J. Ernest Wilkins, Jr. Scholarship Fund, offering an initial investment to jumpstart alumni fundraising efforts to strengthen Lab’s mission of honoring diversity.
In naming the fund after Ernest Wilkins, AB, MA’41, PhD’42, Bims is honoring a prominent Black mathematician and physicist who worked at the University of Chicago Metallurgical Lab during the Manhattan Project. Wilkins entered the University of Chicago in 1936 at the age of 13, becoming one of the youngest students to ever attend the University. After completing his Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics at 17, he got his Master's and in 1942, at the age of 19, Wilkins became the seventh African American to obtain a PhD in Mathematics from the University.
Bims sees his gift as a way to “make meaningful impact and transform lives” and hopes to inspire other alumni and friends to support financial aid. His generosity demonstrates one of the many ways donors can help Lab strengthen its commitment to honoring diversity and increasing equity and inclusion among its entire student body, from Nursery 3 to U-High.
Looking toward Lab’s next 125 years, transformation remains on the horizon. With the support of a generous community, together we will go far.