Student Life

A Scholarship Inspired by Love

Group photo of people associated with the Mercile J. Lee Scholars Program

The Mercile J. Lee Scholars Program has benefited more than 2,600 undergraduates in the last 35 years. Andy Manis

The late Mercile Lee was the founding director of the Chancellor’s and Powers-Knapp Scholarship Programs, which attract talented students from historically underrepresented backgrounds. The two scholarships, now collectively known as the Mercile J. Lee Scholars Program, have benefited more than 2,600 undergraduates in the last 35 years. Today, there are more than 525 Chancellor’s and Powers-Knapp Scholars on campus, 134 of them new this fall. Patrick Sims, UW–Madison’s deputy vice chancellor and chief diversity officer, has called the programs “among the most lauded scholarship and mentoring programs in the country.”

A major gift from Phill ’82, MS’83 and Liz Gross will expand the Chancellor’s Scholarship Program. “This gift will ensure that the Mercile J. Lee Scholars Program continues to grow and thrive for generations to come,” Chancellor Rebecca Blank said at a ceremony announcing the naming honor in November 2018. Some 350 people attended the event, many of them former scholarship recipients. They praised Lee’s leadership, vision, and mentoring.

Dominic Ledesma ’04, a former Powers-Knapp scholar, said, “The unconditional support [Lee] offered, coupled with high expectations and structured measures of accountability, underlies our definition of tough love — the love Mercile provided for all of her scholars.”

The Grosses have long supported programs that help bring a college degree within reach for talented young people. Phill Gross, who is a cofounder and managing director of Adage Capital Management in Boston, became friends with Lee. At the November naming announcement, he said that he and his wife met Lee many years ago and were immediately impressed with her ability to mentor and nurture so many students at one time.

“It didn’t matter where they came from, or what their race was, or what their family background was like; we knew Mercile would improve their standing and the standing of their future generations by making sure they were the best they could possibly be,” he said.

Phill often checked in with Lee on his trips to Madison. He last visited her during the university’s Homecoming festivities, just four days before her death in October 2018.

“Mercile taught me so much about how to live a life of giving through hard work and humility,” he said. “In that sense, I, too, am one of her students. I will be indebted to her forever for that. Like all of her mentees, I still feel her quiet energy pushing and prodding me to do better on this day and every day.”

Published in the Fall 2019 issue


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