Share / Discuss

Mentors Matter

For the Class of 2020, you might think that the hard part—getting into college—is behind them.

But for students from disadvantaged backgrounds—first-generation college attendees, underrepresented minorities, low-income pupils, or children of immigrants—navigating Swarthmore and everything after can be overwhelming.

Established in 2004, the Richard Rubin Scholar Mentoring Program gives disadvantaged students the tools and support they need. It was named to honor the professor whose friendship and guidance changed countless lives, like Maurice Foley ’82’s.

Coming from an underperforming public high school and one of a small number of African-American students on campus, Foley struggled at Swarthmore—even receiving a suspension—until he took a course with Rubin, a political science and public policy professor who asked him about his aspirations and devoted time to him. Hearing that Foley was interested in tax law, Rubin put him in contact with tax attorneys and mapped Foley’s path to success—everything from improving his public speaking skills to taking an LSAT prep course. 

“He did all the little things that I needed assistance with,” says Foley, now a federal tax judge and a mentor himself.

In the more than 30 years since, Rubin has remained close with Foley and a number of alumni, including Gordon Govens ’85, Keith Reeves ’88, and Philip Weiser ’90. Reflecting on their experience, the group wanted to honor Rubin and his legacy of kindness and community building.

“We decided to design a program that duplicated what Professor Rubin did for us,” says Foley. 

For alumni of the Rubin Scholars program, like Jaky Joseph ’06 and Danielle Toaltoan ’07, their mentorship experience continues to play a major role in their lives. Both Joseph and Toaltoan asked their mentor, Foley, to officiate their weddings. 

“The Rubin program is about providing the support that many students might get from other places in their lives, especially if they come from a more privileged background,” says Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Diane Anderson, a member of the program steering committee and mentor to many Rubin Scholars. “As it expands, we hope it can provide more resources for students who struggle with the ‘hidden costs’ of a college education, whether that’s help paying for books or finding a job.”

There are currently 134 Rubin Scholars on campus. Dean of First-Year Students Karen Henry, who oversees the program, is excited to see more applicants, but she worries about the current funding limitations. For example, if every Rubin Scholar applies for the $375/week summer internship stipend, there are not enough resources for them all.

To give the Rubin Scholars program the support it needs, Rubin and his supporters have offered $500,000 in matching funds to expand the program’s endowment by $1 million.

“I think that most Swatties—and most people who are connected to our institution—are very committed to student success,” says Henry. “So you want them to have everything at their disposal to thrive. Having a Rubin Scholars mentor to support them is a key component of that.”