Robert Caruso, left, established the scholarship that is helping Amanda Straight, right, pay for college this year. The two met at the annual Scholars' Breakfast in Steele Hall.
Robert Caruso, who spent nearly three decades in higher education at the University of California at Los Angeles, took the long flight back to his Dunkirk roots and alma mater, SUNY Fredonia, to meet Amanda Straight, the first recipient of a Caruso Memorial Scholarship.
“I’ve always felt that Fredonia was a special kind of institution, both on a personal level and on a professional level,” he said.
He created the scholarship endowment through the Fredonia College Foundation as a memorial to his parents, Mary B. and Joseph A. Caruso.
Ms. Straight, a freshman and 2008 graduate of Fredonia High School, received the $1,000 scholarship, which is renewable each year. She and her parents, Brian and Christine Straight, had the opportunity to meet Mr. Caruso at the Sept. 27 Scholars' Breakfast, attended by nearly 900 scholarship recipients, parents and donors.
“I was so pleased to be the first recipient," she said. "Knowing that my academics and extracurricular activities were being noticed made me feel very excited about all the work that I did in high school,” Ms. Straight said. “Every penny counts when it comes to paying for college. This award has been a tremendous help to me.”
Ms. Straight graduated from Fredonia High School in 2008 with a 3.75 GPA through the 3-1-3 program and compiled a 94 high school average. She served as a class representative on Student Council for three years and was a member of the school’s chamber choir and orchestra, where she played cello, and participated in several community programs, including Santa’s Workshop, Make-A-Wish and a collection drive to benefit soldiers in Iraq.
Ms. Straight, who was born and raised in Fredonia, is currently majoring in Liberal Arts and is interested in pursuing a career in guidance counseling. She has two older sisters, Bettina, a SUNY Fredonia graduate, and Emily, a graduate of SUNY Brockport.
Mr. Caruso devoted his long career to higher education, beginning at SUNY Fredonia as an admissions counselor and culminating with 27 years of service in various student affairs departments at UCLA, so he has intimate knowledge of financial challenges students encounter.
“One of the things that we always tried to work on as hard as we could was scholarships for students. I know that through my experiences that it is very difficult to get donors to give money for scholarships,” he explained. Capital projects can often be the first choice of donors.
“I thought, to the extent that I could, I would provide scholarships that would help students directly,” explained the SUNY Fredonia 1963 graduate, “and at the same time I always wanted to do something as a memorial to my parents and perpetuate their name in that sense.”
His parents were longtime residents of the area; his father worked at the former Allegheny Ludlum Steel Corporation and his mother stayed at home to raise Robert and his sister, Janet. Robert Caruso played basketball and ran track in high school and was a member of Dunkirk High School centennial class of 1958. He served as a summer lifeguard and also taught children to swim during his undergraduate years at SUNY Fredonia.
In addition to his bachelor’s degree in English from SUNY Fredonia, Mr. Caruso earned a master’s degree in English, from Penn State. He taught high school English in both Westfield and Rochester before joining SUNY Fredonia as an admissions counselor. He became an assistant director of admissions and then registrar, a position he held from 1968 to 1975, and then served two years at American University before joining UCLA. Before retiring in 2004, he was administrative director for the Division of Student Academic Services.
Mr. Caruso was welcomed back to campus by June Miller-Spann, associate director of Development, University Advancement, who had met Mr. Caruso at several SUNY Fredonia alumni gatherings in Los Angeles. His first stop was to the Foundation House, where he met Dr. David Tiffany, vice president for University Advancement, and his staff. Next on his itinerary were informal meetings with President Dennis Hefner, Daniel Tramuta, associate vice president of Enrollment Services, and Patricia Feraldi, director of Alumni Affairs.
He was able to experience a meal at Erie Dining Hall and also viewed buildings that had been constructed in recent years, renewed ties with former colleagues and friends of the college and enjoyed the Saturday evening performance of “Broadway Showstoppers” at King Concert Hall.
Regular contact with former classmates and administrative colleagues and reading alumni mailings keep Mr. Caruso current on campus developments.
“I’ve always felt that Fredonia was a special kind of institution, both on a personal level and a professional level,” he said. “The physical aspects of the college, the care and maintenance and all those things are only indicative of how students are treated here. I think the value of student services here is very high.”
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