|23 Jan 2023
Arcadia University President Ajay Nair knows the challenges that many first-generation college students face—because he once was one. After decades of hard work and noteworthy accomplishments, Nair has become an internationally recognized scholar and voice for diversity and equity in higher education. But in speaking about his achievements, Nair is quick to acknowledge the network of people who believed in him along the way.
“All of the great things that have happened for [our family] haven’t happened just because we took the right steps,” Nair says. “We’ve done good things, but we’ve been supported on the way by many people. Nobody makes it in this world by themselves.”
That’s a key reason why Nair made strengthening Arcadia’s privately funded financial aid resources a top priority early in his presidency. Improving affordability and accessibility is an industry-wide, existential challenge for higher education, but at Arcadia it’s also a mission that dates back to the university’s earliest days as Beaver College.
“Equity is part of our DNA. It is our legacy, and it’s one of the major aspects I considered when I took this position as president in 2018,” Nair says. “But the way the world works now makes affordability virtually impossible without support from our donors.”
Enter the Arcadia Financial Aid Initiative (AFAI), which launched in 2019. AFAI aimed to usher in a new culture of philanthropy, encouraging alumni and donors to join Arcadia to correct our under-resourced financial aid assets. The program, which provided a 1:1 match for those who established new endowed scholarships or supplemented existing endowed scholarships seemed like a strong partnership worth joining. Donors responded with enthusiasm: By the end of 2021, they had grown Arcadia’s portfolio from fewer than 70 scholarships to more than 100.
And one of those new endowed scholarships came from the Nair family.
“Ever since we came here (in 2018), we’ve formed wonderful relationships with the students, staff, and faculty. We feel part of the community everywhere we go,” Paayal Nair says.
Although the Nairs have encountered impressive students at many different institutions over their careers, the couple agrees that Arcadia students stand apart.
“Our students come to Arcadia with a level of humility that allows them to cross boundaries and engage with one another in really meaningful ways,” President Nair says. “They work hard here and want to pay it forward. They often choose careers where they can do just that, and they remain committed to community engagement in their personal lives, too.”
Adds Paayal Nair: “When we speak with students and hear their stories, we always ask ourselves, ‘What can we do to help them?’ A scholarship is one of the many ways we can help support their dreams.”
The Nairs hope that their gift inspires other alumni and donors to follow their lead to make Arcadia more affordable. They also hope their charitable support illustrates how much they believe in the Arcadia community and its future.
“I’m a native Philadelphian, so the idea of ‘coming home’ was very appealing when I considered this position. But I also quickly saw how closely my family’s values and Arcadia’s values aligned,” President Nair says. “I hope when people see this gift, it sends the message of how deeply invested we are as a family, and how much we care about Arcadia’s mission and values.”
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