Recent alumni pay it forward with new giving fund

By Cheryl Cranick, Honors Program

A $10,000 gift established a new Honors giving fund this summer. Its donors are three Honors alumni who’ve graduated within the past six years. According to one of the fund’s creators, Nate Eaton ’05, “Our vision for the Young Honors Alumni Fund is to provide a mechanism through which young alumni can give back to the students of the Honors Program so that they may fulfill their own vision of an Honors experience at UConn.”

The young benefactors, Eaton, Ajay Madkekar ’06, and Chintan Bhatt ’07, were classmates, friends, and eventually became colleagues; all three transitioned from UConn Honors graduates to members of GE’s Financial Management Program. Bhatt remains with GE in the company’s corporate audit staff, recently completing his assignment in Tokyo for another post in Ireland. Madkekar has since joined Time Warner Cable in New York as a senior financial analyst. Eaton is now part of the Nielsen Company’s core finance team in Switzerland.

Chintan Bhatt
Chintan Bhatt ’07

It was on a whim last fall in 2010, while in Zurich on business, that Bhatt remembered his friend Eaton lived in town; he called for a last-minute dinner. The two met and eventually the conversation led to their time in Honors. Both men agreed that their undergraduate experience was a pivotal part of their current successes in life. “I look back on Honors and UConn as the foundation that has made this all possible,” said Eaton. The friends had been meaning to devise a plan to give back to the program in some way. That night, they vowed to keep their promise.

Eaton contacted Madkekar back in New York, who eagerly agreed to the proposal. “I immediately jumped at the chance to be part of this vision,” said Madkekar. “The idea grew quickly once the three of us realized that our visions aligned.”

Their next step was to contact the University. Working with Dr. Lynne Goodstein, Director of the Honors Program, and Sue Davison, Director of Development (Major Gifts) for the UConn Foundation, the three laid out their goals. The development process included emails, phone calls, and a conference call set up while Eaton was in Connecticut on business. Madkekar joined the morning conversation from New York and Bhatt called in from Tokyo, where it was close to midnight.

Nate Eaton
Nate Eaton ’05

The three alumni agreed to begin a fund that would appeal to other young alumni. They felt that Honors graduates, especially relatively recent alums, would be enthusiastic about giving because of a shared appreciation for the value of the overall Honors experience. Their fund would provide financial assistance now and eventually serve as a foundation for expanding alumni outreach and mentoring. Having all been members and leaders of the Honors Council, they decided the student organization, which had received so much of their time and energy, should be central to the plan.

“We were able to craft a program we believe will provide direct, sustainable support to the mission of the Honors Program and Honors Council,” said Eaton. “Although there are already many great ways of giving back, we felt that today’s Honors students should be part of deciding how some of the philanthropic resources that come into the Honors Program are used and disbursed.”

The Young Honors Alumni Fund is now officially launched and is one that other Honors graduates are encouraged to support. “We hope this will be a catalyst for other alumni to join in our movement and contribute to these efforts,” said Madkekar.

Ajay Madkekar
Ajay Madkekar ’06
‘Entrepreneurial spirit and leadership’

Davison commended the young men “for their entrepreneurial spirit and leadership in launching this new fund. They set a great example to alumni of all ages, but especially to their peers who have recently benefitted from participating in our Honors Program,” she said. “We hope many more alums will follow their lead and contribute to the fund, at whatever amount they are able.”

Goodstein agreed. “We set expectations for every Honors student to become engaged beyond the classroom and contribute to the Honors community,” she said. “The three donors epitomized these values while they were here at UConn. Their gift will promote community and engagement among Honors students currently and far into the future.”

The fund is just the most recent example of leadership from these young alumni. Eaton completed three undergraduate majors at UConn: finance, French, and German; for two of them he graduated as an Honors Scholar. He studied abroad twice: the Sorbonne in Paris and the University of Mannheim in Germany. These experiences enabled him to become fluent in both languages, a major asset for his future career in French- and German-speaking Switzerland. Furthermore, as treasurer and then president of the Honors Council, Eaton’s leadership helped its active membership expand from 15 to 120 students.

Madkekar majored in finance and minored in economics. He was also a Freshman Honors Facilitator, a committee chair for Honors Council, a chief student representative to the Honors Board of Associate Directors, an inaugural organizer of the Global Leadership Commission, and president of the Finance Society.

Bhatt was the force behind creating the Global Leadership Commission, having been inspired by a Foundation event that brought former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to campus. To encourage leadership development among all members, the group purposefully developed with no formal hierarchy. Inviting Sen. Joseph Lieberman to keynote the organization’s first event, Bhatt said the group decided to start big. Other leaders in business, industry, health care, and non-profits have followed. Hoping to advance his education in electrical engineering by exploring the Asian market, Bhatt was also the first student to study abroad as part of the UConn Honors exchange at the National University of Singapore. Since Bhatt’s inaugural trip, almost 100 UConn students have followed in his footsteps.

Bhatt is still inspired by the opportunities he encountered in UConn’s Honors Program, which fueled his desire to support his alma mater. “If you sit back and see where you came from and where you are,” he said, “a lot has to do with what I did here.”

If you would like to make a gift to the Young Honors Alumni Fund, please contact Sue Davison at the UConn Foundation.

Return to the Fall 2011 issue of the Honors Alumni eNewsletter