Donor Spotlight: Gaye Hill (Medill 77) and Jeff Urbina (Weinberg 77, Kellogg 81)
Alumni turn missed opportunity into passion to support international experiences for students in need
Northwestern students studying abroad in South Africa.
When Gaye Hill (Medill 77) looks back on her Northwestern experience, she can’t help but reflect on a missed opportunity—a transformative experience that slipped from her grasp.
As a first-generation college student of limited financial means, Hill was able to attend the University with the help of a scholarship and a job. Her high school sweetheart and future husband Jeff Urbina (Weinberg 77, Kellogg 81) transferred to Northwestern as a junior, and was in a similar situation. Needless to say, the young couple scraped by—Hill estimates she usually had no more than $10 of disposable income on any given week.
What’s more, even though Hill had been accepted into a study abroad program, she was unable to participate. The cost proved too burdensome, the prospect of leaving a job that might not be there upon her return too risky.
That lost opportunity still resonates.
“It colored our experience in a big way,” Hill says. “On the other hand, we had a great education. It prepared us for what we wanted to do and Jeff and I have been very successful. We’ve always given back to Northwestern, but when we got to the point where we could give back significantly, we wanted to find out how we could most affect Northwestern.
“We kind of cycled back to our experience of being of limited means and the feeling that we were unable to participate fully in our education because of those means.”
As a result, Hill and Urbina now provide other Northwestern students the kinds of perspective-altering opportunities they could not afford. The couple has set up two funds to support the international travel costs of undergraduate students with financial need, including travel and living expenses and lost income from employment.
For Urbina, a portfolio manager in charge of international investment who has spent much of the past 15 years traveling outside the United States, the importance of studying abroad is unmistakable.
“Anyone who is making decisions in the future is going to have to have a global perspective,” he said. “Regardless of what profession you are in, the world has become a very small place, very quickly.
“There is no substitute for experience on the ground. It is invaluable in gaining a better understanding of the world and gives you some context for how and why people do what they do.”
The Hill-Urbina International Travel Fund at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences supports students who participate in the Global Health Program. This year, seven students received Hill-Urbina study abroad grants—three for Public Health in Chile, two for Public Health in Cuba, and two for Public Health in South Africa. Hill and Urbina have also created a fund to provide similar grants to students at Medill.
“The support of donors like Gaye Hill and Jeff Urbina makes it possible for our students to participate in these programs and fulfill the requirements of their Minor in Global Health,” said Devora Grynspan, director of Northwestern’s Office of International Program Development. “Donor support is especially important to those who are able to study abroad only in the summer, because of the lack of summertime financial aid.”
Every year, Hill and Urbina catch a small glimpse of the impact their gift has made—they receive correspondence and photos from students they have helped send abroad.
“It’s a wonderful thing,” Hill said. “The development office is so good about having the students report back on their quarters abroad. It’s just wonderful to see how their eyes have been opened. And, for many of them, how their career plans have changed or at least become better formulated because of their travel experience.”