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Parents establish scholarship to honor son’s favorite professor

Appreciative of Olga Broumas’ guiding hand in the education of their son Ben Yakas ’07, Lisa Keller and Saky Yakas, P ’07, decided to pay tribute to the educator-poet in the most meaningful way they knew: by creating an endowed scholarship in her name. Designed to assist worthy undergraduates with an interest in English and creative writing, the scholarship is a tribute to Broumas’ commitment to serving as a mentor to students.

“Olga Broumas is an ideal professor in her sensitivity to her students’ needs and her ability to communicate with them,” Lisa said. “Many professors are great teachers and scholars, but not everyone can mentor a student and become a trustworthy friend.”

Ben’s English degree from Brandeis has started him on his way to a promising career in journalism. After he graduated in 2007, Ben continued on to Columbia Journalism School and then the New York-based blog Gothamist. His success, his parents believe, is a direct result of close relationships with his grandfather, who was a longtime senior editor of the Wall Street Journal, and Broumas.

Broumas, who was born and raised and Greece, is an award-winning poet who was the first non-native speaker of English to win the Yale Younger Poets Award.  She directs the University’s Creative Writing Program and has taught at Brandeis since 1995.

Lisa, herself a professor at the State University of New York at Purchase, has tremendous respect for the mentor-mentee relationship. As an undergraduate at Vassar, one teacher in particular nurtured her as a scholar, recognizing Lisa’s particular needs and providing both intellectual and emotional support. So when Lisa saw Ben’s affinity for Broumas, she knew he had found a similar ally. “When Ben talked of Olga or she came up in conversation, his eyes would light up. His enthusiasm and excitement, and the trust he had in her, were unmistakable,” she said.

Both Lisa and Saky believe that parents should support universities by honoring excellent mentors. “At the end of the day, the backbone of a great university is the faculty,” she said. “When parents look at colleges, they look at facilities and activities. But beyond the bricks and mortar, if it all burned down the professors would still be there. Great professors make great institutions.”

The Yakas family believes that Brandeis places tremendous value on close faculty-student relationships. “Brandeis clearly has very high standards on every plane,” Lisa says, “but I think the excellence of the faculty indicates that the University looks at other qualities besides teaching and scholarship when making hiring decisions.”

There are other, more practical benefits to honoring faculty; Lisa and Saky point out that high-quality professors will gravitate to universities that demonstrate a high regard for their educators. There is nothing more important, they argue, when entrusting one’s children to the care of a university. “Faculty need to know how much we value and trust them to take particular care of our children,” Lisa said.

For one professor, that message has been received. Thanks to this new scholarship, Olga Broumas now knows that she is not just valued as a scholar or as a poet, but as a mentor as well. 

Categories: Donor Profile, Giving
Date: January 22, 2014