Brandeis Alumni, Family and Friends

"We Are the MKTYP!"

Alumni of the Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program reflect on how the program changed their lives, and what it offers to the Brandeis community. 

  • Reginald Sapp, left and Chanda Ouk Wolf, right.
    Reginald Sapp ’73, MA’05, left, was a member of the first MKTYP class in 1968. Chanda Ouk Wolf ’05, right, recalls her acceptance to the MKTYP program as a transformative moment. 
  • Napoleon Lherisson and Taisha Sturdivant
    Alumnus Napoleon Lherisson ’11, left, sees all that MKTYP students contribute to Brandeis and beyond. Taisha Sturdivant ’11, right, recognizes her own legacy as being intertwined with the program's. 

For Chanda Ouk Wolf ’05, whose parents and great-grandmother escaped the killing fields of Cambodia in the late 1970s, being accepted to the Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program at Brandeis was a “golden ticket” to a college education and a world of opportunity.

“I remember vividly the acceptance package.” recalls Wolf, who went on to earn a law degree and is now special assistant to the president and general counsel at the University of Massachusetts. “The feeling was pure elation. It made me nervous and excited to think of what was to come. I knew at that moment the course of my life had taken a sharp turn from uncertainty to possibility.”

Wolf is among the more than 1,000 alumni of the Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program, or MKTYP, for short. The innovative program, which marked its 50th anniversary in 2018, prepares talented students from underserved communities and under-resourced high schools for academic success in their undergraduate years at Brandeis, through small classes, rigorous academics and strong advising support. Approximately 20 students participate in the program annually and, on successful completion, continue their education at Brandeis. 

Giving Back to Further a Legacy 

A campaign is underway to re-engage MKTYP alumni as part of an effort to raise $1.2 million each year to support its first-year students. “This is a labor of love,” says MKTYP director Dr. Kathryn Bethea-Rivera. “The program needs financial help to support student scholarships, as well as technology needs, books, travel, and summer opportunity grants. We hope to continue MKTYP’s legacy of knowledge, justice and excellence for another 50 years.”

In November, more than 170 people attended a Zoom event marking the publication of a commemorative book, “We Are MKTYP: Reflections,” showcasing perspectives from a half-century of readying young leaders for success in higher education. 

What originally was called simply the Transitional Year Program was named in 2013 for the late Brandeis Trustee Myra Hiatt Kraft ’64, H’12, whose husband, Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, presented a $5-million gift to the program. 

Robert Kraft and his son, Brandeis Trustee Josh Kraft, took part in the November event. The elder Kraft said his wife would be very proud of the program that bears her name at her beloved alma mater. “I see my sweetheart smiling down,” he told attendees via Zoom.

Living Up to Brandeis Ideals 

Alumna Taisha Sturdivant ’11, today a Boston attorney, described how she had been left homeless at 15 when her mother died, and arrived for her transitional year at Brandeis with all her worldly belongings in her suitcase.

“To say I was in survival mode for the majority of my life and to say that I, like many others, had to overcome some of life's toughest adversities before—and during Brandeis—is an understatement,” Sturdivant said. “I showed up to 'Deis with all of my worldly possessions, including my trauma, and had a lot of literal and figurative unpacking to do.”

Brandeis is so important to her, Sturdivant said, because she was encouraged to amplify her own voice because I learned and was encouraged to amplify her own voice often to "hold Brandeis itself accountable to its own ideals. My legacy is directly tied to the program's. Because of that, I am working every day to make you all proud.” 

New Possibilities for Two Generations 

Forty years after Reginald Sapp ’73, MA’05, joined the program’s inaugural class, his grandson, Mike ’13, enrolled in the MKTYP, too. 

“I came to Brandeis and the (MKTYP) hungry for knowledge and understanding,” said the elder Sapp, who went on to become the first Martin Luther King Scholar at Brandeis. “For the first time in my life, I was in a friendly and safe educational environment. For the first time, I understood what it meant not to simply be in survival mode but to actually envision possibilities.

“(MKTYP) gave me the tools to thrive—educationally, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually,” he said. “And that is the power and impact of the (MKTYP) program for me: the endlessness of possibilities and the means to accomplish them.”

Enriching the Culture at Brandeis 

Alumnus Napoleon Lherisson ’11 offered encouragement to students currently in the program. “You are where you need to be,” he said. “This is an opportunity to sharpen and develop your skillset, and to think about, ‘What am I going to do in this world?’ The college needs your voices. Be engaged—challenge yourself and others. Our culture needs you.” 

Chanda Ouk Wolf noted the resilience of her great-grandmother, who helped raise her, and who escaped genocide in Cambodia to live to the age of 109. “(Our) stories are bound by a common thread and that is of great hope,” Wolf said. 

“I think of what the (MKTYP) has done for me and many others since 1968,” she said. “And it remains true now as it did then, this program is a reminder of Brandeis’ commitment to social justice and truth even unto its innermost parts. I realized while at Brandeis that education is the great equalizer—but it is the Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program that serves as the catalyst.”