When she was a junior at Barnard, Colleen Ritzau Leth ’08 spent three months in Cairo researching cultural property law, thanks in part to support from Barnard’s Joyce Kosh Kaiser ’57 Internship Fund in the Arts. The experience inspired her to pursue a career in the art world.
“Being able to conduct my own research on site was very empowering. The experience made me fall in love with art history and archaeology, and I’ve been working in museums ever since,” says Leth, who most recently managed the Global Museum Leaders Colloquium at the Metropolitan Museum of Art before earning her MBA at Oxford.
Recognizing the transformative effect of the gift that funded her thesis research in Egypt, Leth decided to give back to the College by endowing a new fund to support faculty research and travel. And she has made her gift doubly special by honoring her family in the creation of the Colleen Ritzau Leth ’08 Family Fund for International Research.
Leth’s gift supports the College’s $400 million fundraising campaign, The Bold Standard , and reflects motivations shared by many alumnae donors—to help others pursue their intellectual passions as they did at Barnard, and to honor family members who helped encourage their journeys.
“Many Barnard graduates have strong connections to the College that cross generations,” says Beth Mauro, executive director of principal giving. “It gives them enormous satisfaction to recognize their families through their philanthropy, knowing that Barnard will continue to provide students the best liberal arts education for generations to come.”
The Bold Standard campaign provides alumnae and their families with myriad options to support the College’s key priorities, in particular building the endowment by establishing funds for student scholarships, faculty research, and professorships. (See box for details.) Taking a family-focused approach to giving can make the process even more meaningful.
Rachel Wild ’87 and her mother, Patricia Berko Wild ’62, share a strong connection and commitment to Barnard. Wild is active in the Barnard community, participating in a variety of activities that include reunion planning, reaching out to classmates to boost fundraising, serving as a member of the Alma Maters committee and her local Barnard chapter, and more. As she became increasingly involved with Barnard, she began thinking about meaningful ways to support the College and its mission. Supporting students through financial aid seemed to be the perfect way to accomplish this goal. Wild also wanted to honor her mother, an Ohio native who was, in her daughter’s eyes, “very brave to go to college in New York City.
“I felt this would be a wonderful way to connect with my mom,” Wild says. “She was part of the first generation of her family to go to college, and I have definitely benefited from her wisdom.”
Wild feels it is important to enable current and future students to benefit from the same nurturing and challenging educational environment that she found at Barnard.
One of the many reasons Wild was drawn to Barnard was its New York City location. “Once I got there, I realized what a special place the College is and how it helps women empower themselves,” Wild says.
Like Wild, Leth designed her gift to strengthen Barnard’s tradition of academic excellence. The Leth Family Fund targets research on international current affairs in a variety of academic fields and interdisciplinary programs, with a particular focus on transnational and intercultural relations, peace building, economic development, and human rights.
“We hope that this fund will allow for greater connection and collaboration across disciplines and departments, both for faculty and students—that’s the beauty of a liberal arts education,” Leth says.
The fund’s first recipient is the Claire Tow Professor of Anthropology Paige West, who used the money to spend three months last summer in Papua New Guinea, where she has done research for the past 20 years. West conducted fieldwork related to the Australian government’s controversial Manus Island Detention Camp for migrants and the resettlement of camp detainees in Papua New Guinea. West is now working on articles for academic journals and the popular press about her research. She and her collaborator, immigration lawyer and Assistant Professor of Practice in Sociology J.C. Salyer, also have incorporated their research into their courses.
“It’s a privilege to be at a place like Barnard that has donors who understand that faculty research and scholarship directly connect to our teaching,” West says. “This gift allowed me to complete a multiyear project that is incredibly important in terms of producing knowledge about the Manus Island situation and that also fits nicely with my teaching program.”
West’s project fits squarely into Leth’s vision for her gift, as an international research endeavor that creates knowledge to be shared throughout the Barnard community and beyond. It also reflects the desire of Leth and her mother to honor their family’s history in the international travel industry and to extend their family’s longstanding philanthropic efforts to foster economic development and improve the quality of life of people in communities around the world.
And, like all supporters of The Bold Standard campaign from across the generations, Leth sees her gift as part of the larger mission to ensure that her alma mater can have an impact on current and future students.
“Today, more than ever before, it is so important that we empower our fellow women to gain the confidence, competence, and independence enabled in very unique ways by an interdisciplinary education so that they remain both competitive and inspired to do the work that fulfills them after their time on campus,” she says.