A decades-long investment in student scholarship

Ever since the establishment of the program’s first scholarship in 1929, Rotman Commerce has sustained a longstanding tradition of ensuring financial assistance in support of our students’ education, thanks to the generosity of countless alumni, donors, friends, family and the community at large.

The first student scholarship

Since the earliest days of our program, the Rotman Commerce community has made accessibility to a world-class education an utmost priority. Reducing financial barriers to entry for deserving students has been a key component of our efforts to bring the best and brightest from around the world together in one program and give them the opportunity to emerge as capable young leaders ready to tackle grand challenges presented by an ever-shifting society.

The program’s first scholarship – the S.R. Parsons Scholarship established by S.R. Parsons, esq. – was awarded at a generous amount of $250 in 1929 to W.G. French, a student at the University of Toronto pursuing a Bachelor of Commerce degree. “The scholarship shall be based on the candidate’s academic record during the first three years of the course, with consideration being given to financial need,” the records state, indicating both a consideration given to academic excellence and an acknowledgement of the financial constraints faced by young people pursuing a university degree.

Community spirit

The strength of our community is a recurring theme in Rotman Commerce’s long history and continues to define our program to this day. Community spirit is also found within the history of philanthropy at Rotman Commerce, with countless instances of groups and classes of individuals coming together to amplify their impact through a joint gift. While financial need continues to be considered when establishing and awarding scholarships, we have seen philanthropy take on various forms over the decades – from individual donations to group and class gifts, corporate donations or scholarships made in memory of a loved one, our generous community has found creative ways to personalize and expand the impact of financial assistance for our students.

The first recorded group gift made to the program came in 1946 – the Clarkson Prize, the gift of Messrs. Clarkson, Gordon, Dilworth and Nash at the value of $50 to be awarded to the student ranking First Class Honours in accounting. Group giving continues to foster camaraderie amongst our alumni and supporters today. The Building Canadian Leaders: Class of 1968 Scholarship in Rotman Commerce, for example, was created by a group of alumni from the Class of 1968 who came together with the common belief in the power of giving back to their alma mater and its current students.

More recently, Dr. Rajeev Chib (EMBA ‘08) joined ten of his fellow alumni to create the Rotman Asia Alumni Scholarship (RAAS), to be awarded annually to an exceptional international student attending the Rotman Commerce program. The scholarship’s focus on supporting international students is also reflective of just how much the program has evolved over the decades to become more diverse and welcoming of the world’s most talented young people, irrespective of borders.

Members of the Class of 1968 celebrating their 55th Reunion. Members of the class generously invested in the next generation of leaders by creating the Building Canadian Leaders: Class of 1968 Scholarship in Rotman Commerce.

Corporations supporting student success

Given the nature of the program, it is natural to find that companies have always had a vested interest in supporting Rotman Commerce. Over the years, we’ve seen companies from a variety of sectors make significant contributions towards enhancing the student experience and education at Rotman Commerce. In 1947, we see one of the first recorded corporate gifts, made to the program by the Ontario-Minnesota Pulp and Paper Company. Like many scholarships before and after, financial need was taken into consideration – more surprisingly, consideration was also made to the “physical fitness” of the student, and their behaviour while attending the University was required to be “above criticism.”

Well-known companies have continued to make gifts over the years – for example, the Simpson Scholarship was created in 1948 by Robert Simpson Company Limited (more popularly known as the Simpsons department store); the Edwin Waterhouse Scholarship was a gift of Price Waterhouse and Company in 1949, made in the name of one of the founders of the modern-day multinational company Pricewaterhouse Coopers, and the Toronto Stock Exchange Prize in Corporation Finance, initially gifted at a value of $100 in 1953, was doubled to $200 in 1956.

Robert Simpson Co. department store, circa 1908. Simpson Scholarship was created in 1948 by the Robert Simpson Company Limited

Tradition of honouring the memory of loved ones

Scholarship philanthropy has often taken on a deeply personal meaning for donors, with many gifts created in honour of a loved one, friend or family member. In 1951, for example, the family of the late Sir Edmund Walker set up a scholarship in his name, of the value of $150 each year for three years, in commemoration of his services as Chairman of the Board of Governors and later as Chancellor of the University. That same year, the Gordon Crow Memorial Scholarship was established in memory of Lieutenant Gordon Williams Crow, who was killed in action during the First World War, and the Norma Epstein Bursary for a woman student was gifted by the Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority in honour of the late Norma Epstein. This tradition of honouring the memory of loved ones through scholarships that support future generations continues to this day – the Kong Ming Lee and Yip On Lee Memorial Scholarship is an entrance award for incoming students at Rotman Commerce, for example.

The impact, into present day

The common thread that underlies philanthropic efforts is ultimately the belief in the exceptional young people that make Rotman Commerce what it is. The impact of financial assistance on the trajectories of their lives at such a formative stage of their personal and professional journeys cannot be understated.

“At times, studying at university can be very daunting and challenging,” says Renessa Nandita Ramsingh (BCom ‘26), reflecting on her first-year experience in the Accounting Specialist stream. Receiving the Rotman Commerce Reunite Scholarship was a motivating validation of her grit and perseverance, the qualities that had brought her to study at Rotman Commerce. “When I received this scholarship, it reminded me that I have what it takes to achieve anything I set my mind to,” she says. “It reminded me to believe in myself.”

Today, Rotman Commerce’s distinguished history of scholarship philanthropy continues with the ongoing support and commitment of our generous donor community and exciting new traditions like Rotman Giving Day. Now in its third year, Rotman Giving Day is a 24-hour fundraising campaign that invites the Rotman community to rally together in the spirit of philanthropy. Since its inception in 2021, the campaign has shaped out to be a resounding success, having raised nearly one million dollars in donations to a variety of funds in support of our students, faculty, staff and programs across Rotman Commerce and the Rotman School of Management.

Undoubtedly, Rotman Commerce could not be what it is today without the staunch belief that so many alumni, donors, friends, family, companies and groups have had in the program over the last century – most of all, a deep conviction in the promise and potential of our students to drive change and create a better future for us all.

Renessa Nandita Ramsingh (BCom ‘26), the recipient of the Rotman Commerce Reunite Scholarship.

Feeling inspired to join the tradition of philanthropy at Rotman Commerce? Please reach out to Heather Yearwood, Associate Director of Development at heather.yearwood@utoronto.ca, to explore your options.

Lead photo: 2020 & 2021 Rotman Commerce Graduation Celebration, November 2022