When Weaam Asli, a recent Tel Aviv University biology graduate, was in her second year of studies she almost dropped out. The scholarship she received from the Whitman Scholarship Fund was the only thing that kept her afloat during COVID-19 job closures and family health problems.
Asli comes from Arraba, a small Arab town in the north of Israel. She is the third oldest out of five brothers and sisters. All her siblings have pursued or are on the path to entering higher education, which the family has always made a priority. However, in 2020, when Asli was a second-year TAU student, the odds lined up harshly against her ability to stay in school.
“During COVID I lost my job, which partially helped me to support myself and my studies. My dad, who worked at a restaurant, also lost his job. At the same time, my mom had a severe accident – she couldn’t move and spent a long period of time in the hospital,” recounts Asli.
That’s when the Lois and Martin Whitman Scholarship Asli had been receiving at TAU became a lifesaver. “It enabled me to keep going and continue my studies, especially in that second year – the most difficult one of my life. It helped me get through this rough patch,” says Asli, her eyes flashing with emotion.
Launched in 2008, the Lois and Martin Whitman Scholarship Fund promotes the academic mobility and development of Arab students, within TAU’s larger framework of assisting disadvantaged groups and communities. Besides financial support, students receive mentorship and social counseling programs, also available through the Fund. Over the years the initiative has supported more than 1,000 students in both undergraduate and advanced degrees.
“We set up the Fund to give a lift up to Arab students and I’m delighted that it has worked so well,” says Lois Whitman. “I look forward to the Fund being able to help many more students in the future.”
The commitment of Lois Whitman and her late husband, TAU Honorary Doctor. Martin Whitman, to promoting coexistence and advancing underprivileged populations was also the reason for their establishment of the Whitman Family Center for Coexistence at TAU’s Coller School of Management in 2015.
“The role played by the Whitman family in the development and progress of Arab students at TAU cannot be overstated. The impact it has had and continues to have will be felt for many years to come,” said Prof. Drorit Neumann, the TAU Dean of Students.
Asli is now studying to apply to medical school. For the past five years, she has also been volunteering at Rambam hospital in Haifa, in the children’s oncology ward, “to help the children and put a smile on their faces.”
“Scholarships are very important. They give us, the students, a chance to fulfill our dreams and be whatever we want to be; they help us explore life from different perspectives. We live in a world where it is very difficult to survive–having a scholarship helps,” Asli concludes.
– By Julie Steigerwald