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Seeding Success

The Redbud Foundation helps make achieving an education possible

Kevin Alvarez and Perla Soto at Mabee Library

(Kevin Alvarez and Perla Soto at Mabee Library. Photo by Doug Stremel)

From Bell Tower - 2021
By Angela Lutz

As a first-generation college student, Kevin Alvarez didn’t know what to expect on a university campus. While growing up in Topeka, he often felt nervous or adrift when he thought of the future. College seemed out of reach not only because of the expense, but also because his family members lacked the practical experience to provide guidance and direction when it came to academic life. 

“I did well in high school, but one of my biggest fears was what’s next,” Alvarez said. “As a first-generation student, I didn’t have the example of my parents to guide me, so I was basically lost.”

That’s when Washburn University’s Ichabod Success Institute stepped in. Located in Mabee Library, ISI works with area high school students to help them successfully transition to college starting with a five-week residential program each summer. ISI also provides Student Success Scholarships to 20 individuals each year, helping them afford tuition, room and board, and more – for many, making the dream of a college education a reality. Now a junior at Washburn studying philosophy with plans to attend law school, Alvarez credits ISI with giving him financial support and helping him recognize success is within his reach.

Perla Soto also received a Student Success Scholarship from ISI. She is now a junior double majoring in criminal justice with an emphasis in forensic investigation and mass media with an emphasis in film and video. She believes she wouldn’t be in college without the financial and emotional resources she received from ISI.

“ISI’s summer program pushed me to break out of my shell and provided me with new opportunities and people I could talk to. One of the reasons I’m better equipped now is I have that support system.” 

Like Alvarez, Soto is a first-generation college student whose family is unable to provide financial support for college expenses. For this reason, receiving the ISI scholarship – as well as several other financial awards – has been vital in allowing her to attend Washburn and focus on her studies instead of struggling to work and pay tuition.

“It helps to have that net of financial support, because I don’t want to ask my parents for money,” Soto said. “They’re not struggling, but they’re living paycheck to paycheck. The scholarships have helped relieve a lot of stress that I would have if I didn’t have that support.”

The Student Success Scholarships Alvarez and Soto received are made possible through generous donations from benefactors like the Redbud Foundation, a Topeka-based philanthropic organization that started giving to Washburn in 2019. After only a year of contributing to the program, the foundation was so pleased with the tangible difference it was making in the lives of students that they doubled the amount of their gift.

“Students in this endeavor tend to do well, tend to work hard and tend to graduate,” said Gerald Lauber, Redbud Foundation director. “The more we became familiar with it, the more we liked it, and we felt it merited more funds. We’re proud that these students are going to a local college and will put some of their knowledge and skills back into this community.”

Because the Ichabod Success Institute directly benefits students who might not attend college without support, its mission tends to resonate with donors. Timothy, ba ’84, and Samantha Durst were key early financial supporters of the Student Success Scholarships and helped get the program off the ground.

“Sam and I are the first in our families to get four-year degrees, so we understand a little about where these students are coming from,” Tim Durst said. “We believe in the value of education. It is the great leveler. It is critical for opening doors and creating opportunities, so expanding access and giving more people a seat at the table should always be a top priority. If our support contributes to changing the trajectory of a person’s life, that would be the brass ring of educational giving.”

For Alvarez and Soto, the scholarships and their experiences with ISI have put them on the path to graduation. They both share a sense of pride in how far they’ve come – as well as a great deal of excitement for the future.

“We could not be more proud of these students. The decision to attend university is a life-changing one, and for first-generation students, it transforms their entire family tree,” said Alan Bearman, dean, University Libraries and the Center for Student Success and Retention.

“I’m proud of being here in college,” Alvarez said. “It’s a huge thing for my family that I’m here – I want to be a role model for my siblings. I am grateful for the chance to pursue a better career and a better life.”


Remembering Glenn Swogger

Glen SwoggerA dedicated philanthropist and leader in the Topeka community, Glenn Swogger started the Redbud Foundation with his wife, Claire, to make a positive difference in the lives of people around him. Over the course of his life, Swogger achieved professional acclaim and was eager to help others find success through his support of education and the arts.

Born in Topeka on Aug. 28, 1935, Swogger attended Topeka High School before going to the University of Chicago at the age of 15. He earned a medical degree from Case Western University in Cleveland and went on to become a private practice psychiatrist. He also served his country in the U.S. Navy and was chair of the board at Kaw Valley Bank for 35 years. Swogger passed away at his home on Aug. 7, 2021, but he leaves behind an enduring legacy through his charitable works.

“He enabled the Redbud Foundation so it can continue to fund his vision and ideals after his death,” said Gerald Lauber, Redbud Foundation director, who worked with Swogger at Kaw Valley Bank for nearly four decades. “He wanted to help more people get more education. Through Redbud he’s made a positive contribution to the Topeka community.”

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Topeka, KS 66604 Phone: 785.670.4483