4 families making a difference for ASU students they don’t even know

ASU Foundation
3 min readMar 26, 2021

These four families, through their generosity, are helping to advance student access at Arizona State University, where first-generation students comprise nearly 40 percent of the student body. With support from them and donors like them, students from all economic backgrounds are empowered to imagine new possibilities.

Chuck and Judy Backus pictured on East Backus Mall, a corridor named after them at the Polytechnic campus. Photo: Sona Srinarayana/ASU

A continued commitment to education and inclusivity: How the Backuses have transformed the Polytechnic campus into a community

In 1996, Chuck and Judy Backus shepherded the expansion of ASU eastward with the opening of what is now known as the ASU Polytechnic campus. To celebrate its 25th anniversary, they are cementing their commitment in true Backus fashion: by increasing access and opportunity to higher education for more students through an endowment that will provide life-changing financial support.

Discover how the Backuses have helped connect the Polytechnic campus with the East Valley community.

Elsie Kopstein Sunshine (left, sitting on a car in 1939 in New York) and Gabrielle Kaufmann Koppell (pictured in 1920s Berlin) are the grandmothers of Dean Jonathan Koppell of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. They are the namesakes of a scholarship fund Jonathan Koppell and his family established to benefit Watts College students. Photos courtesy of Sunshine and Koppell families

Watts dean honors grandmothers through a scholarship for students seeking careers in child welfare

Gabrielle Koppell secretly steered Jewish children from Nazi Germany to safety in America. Now, her grandson and the dean of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions is honoring the memories of Koppell and his other grandmother and their shared passion for children through the Gabrielle Kaufmann Koppell and Elsie Kopstein Sunshine Scholarship Fund, which will support first-generation students in the college seeking careers that address child well-being, particularly among refugee communities.

“Watts College and ASU recognize the path forward depends on young people.” Read more.

Pedro Gomez speaks to a journalism class at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Photo: Cronkite School

How Pedro Gomez’s tremendous influence on the Cronkite community will endure through young sports journalists

Within days of the unexpected death of beloved baseball reporter Pedro Gomez, his family and ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication established the Pedro Gomez Foundation Fund to honor his memory and continue his extraordinary impact on sports journalism students.

You can make a gift to support students that will carry on Gomez’s spirit.

Part of what makes ASU’s Agent Learner Initiative different is the principle of individual empowerment and a student-centric approach to learning. That student-centric approach and entrepreneurial spirit is exactly what inspired the Art and Carlyse Ciocca. Photo courtesy of the Cioccas

Reimagining education: Donors’ gift helps ASU increase accessibility, empower learners and improve student outcomes

Art and Carlyse Cioccas’ passion for education and entrepreneurship sparked their $5 million gift to ASU’s Agent Learner Initiative, enabling the university to provide educational access to all learners through a new design model that helps students achieve their goals through personalized tools.

“An entrepreneurial approach to education is what is needed today.” Discover more.

More featured stories from ASU Foundation

They don’t have perfect SAT scores, but they deserve an opportunity
Saving the planet through a sustainable investment strategy
How to ‘pay it forward’ at your alma mater
3 uplifting stories that show how philanthropy has been critical to fighting COVID-19

About ASU Foundation

The foundation, a subsidiary of ASU Enterprise Partners, is a private, nonprofit organization that raises and invests private contributions to Arizona State University. It is one of Arizona’s oldest nonprofits.

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ASU Foundation

ASU Foundation, one of Arizona’s oldest nonprofits, raises and invests private contributions to Arizona State University. https://www.asufoundation.org/