May 23, 2018 | ° F

Alum’s scholarship program to help students affected by cancer

Through a scholarship fund called Marna’s Pals, recent University graduates aim to provide aid to students whose family members have been affected by cancer.

David Pal, a University alumnus, was left as an independent, paying his own way through school after his mother died of pancreatic cancer in 2007 during his time as a first-year student, following his father’s death during his junior year of high school.

Based on merit and need, the University covered the cost of tuition for Pal, which allowed him to graduate from the University without having any loans to pay back.

“I realized how fortunate I was to be able to graduate without loans and to have so many scholarships help me through my time at Rutgers,” Pal said.

Pal, founder of Marna’s Pals, said he was looking for a way to give back to the community.

Cancer is hard on any individual, he said, and struggling to pay for school only makes it harder.

Pal named his scholarship fund after his mother Marna.

Marna’s Pals offers scholarships to N.J. residents who are entering college or are already in college, with an immediate family member that has been affected by cancer, he said.

Pal said that dealing with cancer in the family should not get in the way of student’s success, so Marna’s Pals offers a way to help these students pay for college.

While at the University, Pal majored in biomedical engineering and public health, was a member of the Sigma Alpha Mu Fraternity, as well as a member of the Cap and Skull honors society.

Pal is now a second-year Ph.D student in environmental engineering at Princeton University.

Pal approached his girlfriend of two years, co-founder and University alumna Elizabeth Diaz, in December 2011 with the idea to create this organization and asked for her help.

From there, Marna’s Pals has grown to include 15 members, almost all of who are University alumni or current students, he said.

Diaz got involved with the organization as she too experienced the affects of cancer in her family. Diaz grew up living with her grandfather, who died of brain and lung cancer during her junior year at the University, she said.

“I experienced a lot of the same obstacles,” Diaz said. “I understood where David was coming from, and it’s a really great cause.”

Diaz said she hopes to see the organization grow beyond the local area. The goal is to reach all of New Jersey in five years and to be able to provide scholarships that can cover costs for an entire semester.

Marna’s Pals solicits applications through its website, which are then reviewed to find the top applicants based off need, merit and the general effect cancer has had on their family, Pal said.

The organization was founded in January 2012 and will be offering its first round of scholarships in January 2013. These initial scholarships consist of a total of $3,500, which will be divided in to seven scholarships of $500 each, Pal said.

The first 100 applications to be submitted will be accepted for review. One scholarship will be reserved for a South Brunswick High School senior, the same high school Pal attended, he said.

Through numerous small fundraisers, bake sales, Super Bowl events and general solicitation, Marna’s Pals has raised $13,000, Pal said.

The remainder of the money that is not being used for scholarships this year has been invested, so the organization can grow a reservoir of funds for future applicants, Pal said.

Marna’s Pals aims to raise $50,000 within the year through more events and fundraisers, including its official launch party in February 2013, he said.

Neil Stocco, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, is one of the student volunteers for Marna’s Pals and has been a member of the organization since it began.

When Stocco pledged Sigma Alpha Mu in fall 2010, Pal was president of the fraternity, and Stucco said his involvement began there.

When Stocco heard that families are forced to put medical bills before tuition and other education costs, he was immediately on board with the organization, spreading the word to family and friends, he said.

“No teenager deserves to be denied an education because his college fund is paying for medical bills,” Stocco said. “I want Marna’s Pals to have a more scholastic appeal.”

Stocco works as the public relations officer for the organization and is the author of the quarterly newsletter, with the first issue expected to be out in the beginning of 2013.

To donate to Marna’s Pals, you can visit the website or Facebook page. The organization has a PayPal account and also accepts cash and check donations.

By Skylar Frederick

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