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$3 million gift to attract the best and brightest

Miriam Roland’s significant donation will establish merit-based graduate fellowships for doctoral students
March 12, 2018
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By Joseph Leger

“I have a personal attachment to Concordia,” says Miriam Roland, a long-time supporter, donor and former member of the university’s Board of Governors. “The first week I arrived in Montreal, I became a student here. It’s my neighbourhood university.”

Roland’s deep sense of pride and connection to Concordia moved her to make a generous $3 million donation to establish the Miriam Aaron Roland Graduate Fellowships.

Miriam Roland Miriam Roland has been a strong Concordia supporter for more than 30 years, funding many fellowships and programs, including the District 3 Innovation Centre.

“For my legacy gift I wanted to address what I saw as one of Concordia’s greatest needs,” Roland says. “I wanted to help enhance this university’s reputation because Concordia deserves it.”

The fellowships will be awarded to graduate students from Concordia’s four academic faculties: Arts and Science, Fine Arts, Engineering and Computer Science and the John Molson School of Business (JMSB). The gift will primarily support Concordia’s strategic direction of doubling its research by attracting and retaining the best and brightest students.

Roland points out that top universities around the world are known for their graduate programs, research and professors.

“Top researchers choose schools that have good graduate students and graduate students elect to go where there are top professors in their field — that’s a good symbiotic relationship. By helping the students I’m also helping the faculty.”

Her endowment will pay a minimum of five per cent annually, adjusted for inflation every four years.

The first awards will be given for the 2018-19 academic year. The fellowships will be granted through competition, based on academic merit, to students pursuing a doctoral degree in areas that will enhance Concordia’s research profile and reputation and encourage interdisciplinary cooperation.

“Miriam Roland is an incredible advocate and champion for our university,” says Concordia President Alan Shepard.

“Her generosity will help propel our research and encourage our talented students to experiment boldly to answer some of the most urgent questions facing our society.

"We are deeply grateful for her gift and we take great pride having Miriam as a leader in our Concordia community,” says Shepard.

A history of philanthropy

Roland’s parents, Laura and Barney Aaron, instilled in her a strong sense of generosity and giving has always been an important part of her life.

“I think I grew up with it. The same way we eat three meals a day, we give to those in need. It was just the ethos of the family. It was never put into words, it was just always what was done,” Roland says.

“There are many different reasons why people give and many of them are different from my reasons, but it doesn’t matter. My father always said, ‘As long as people give, perhaps one day they’ll give for the right reasons.’”

She sees her role as a donor as one that allows promising students to fulfill their potential. “I’m giving opportunity. There’s no guarantee people who receive support through my graduate fellowships will have success,” Roland says.

“Yet for most graduate students, they’ve proven that they have a passion for learning. They have the spark. I find that admirable and I’m happy to give them the chance.”

From California to Concordia

Miriam Roland and Jeremy Clark Miriam Roland regularly attends Concordia speaking events and lectures. She is pictured above with Jeremy Clark, associate professor in Concordia’s Institute for Information Systems Engineering, after the sold-out Jeremy Clark talks Bitcoin and cryptocurrency event at Concordia on February 22, 2018.

Roland caught her first glimpse of Concordia from her condo window in 1978. She had just moved back to Montreal after spending 32 years in California and as she gazed south towards Ste. Catherine St., something caught her eye. “What’s that big, white building?” she asked a friend, pointing at the Henry F. Hall Building. “That’s Concordia University,” her friend replied.

Roland wasted no time and almost immediately made her way down the street and registered for two courses, all before her movers had arrived with her furniture.

“I wanted to take a course on Canadian history and politics and a French course,” Roland recalls. “I told them my diploma was in my luggage with my furniture and I didn’t have it yet. They said that didn’t matter, and I thought, ‘Oh, well that’s nice. I kind of like this university.’ It was really friendly.”

Building the next-gen university

Over the span of 40 years, Roland’s relationship with Concordia has grown and evolved. She began as a student, taking several courses and attending many lectures and speaking events over the years.

“I was grateful that I was so near Concordia, where I could have some mental stimulation,” she says. “When other people play bridge, I go to lectures.”

In 1992, she was invited to join Concordia’s Board of Governors, where she spent 12 years helping guide the university through a period of great expansion. She sat on numerous committees, including the Real Estate Planning Committee that oversaw the development of Quartier Concordia, and, most notably, construction of the Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex.

“I remember discussing classroom sizes,” Roland says. “I told them they can’t build them big — if we build them big we will fill them. You can’t have 800 students in a class, you have no rapport with the professor. You’ll notice even the biggest rooms aren’t very big.”

Roland is a firm believer in ethical investing and business practices and she successfully lobbied to establish a mandatory course in business ethics for JMSB students.

She describes her time on the board and different university committees as great learning experiences and a chance to develop a deeper understanding of the university.

Expanding knowledge

Higher education and learning have always been priorities for Roland. A professional psychotherapist, with degrees from Stanford University in California and Adler University in Chicago, she is always seeking to expand her knowledge.

“I get really excited with a new idea. I remember when I was learning to become a therapist I would go to seminars and I was always so happy when they reinforced what I thought I knew,” she says. “But after a while I decided, no, I don’t need that reinforcement anymore. I’ve been doing this for a number of years. Challenge me.”

At 87 years old, Roland still challenges herself by regularly attending Concordia events. “Now I like going to lectures where I know I’m not going to like the orientation of the speaker, whereas a lot of people would stay away — I like to hear different perspectives.”

She says one of the reasons she has always been drawn to Concordia is its willingness to embrace diversity and its openness to new ideas. “The internal spirit of Concordia has always been, ‘How can we meet the changing needs of our students?’ And that’s a good question to ask,” Roland says.

Bram Freedman, vice-president of Advancement and External Relations at Concordia, credits much of the university’s success on its supporters.

“Concordia is rapidly securing its place as Canada’s next-generation university thanks in large part to our deeply dedicated and loyal donors,” Freedman says. “I have known Miriam for 25 years and she has been an integral part of our community for that entire period. Her commitment to our university, faculty and students is genuine and heartfelt. Her prestigious graduate fellowships will play a pivotal role in attracting and retaining our brightest students.”

WATCH:

Miriam Roland appears in our video celebrating 40 years of philanthropy at Concordia.



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