When Opportunity & Promise Meet | Villanova Magazine
Recent graduate Mafatta Janeh leaning with arms folded and her hand on her chin in a black suit jacket
Recent graduate Alex Alberti standing in a navy suit and blue dress shirt
Rising sophomore Julia Jureidini leaning with arms crossed in an olive-colored dress blouse

When Opportunity
& Promise Meet

The O’Toole Family Presidential Scholarship delivers on its promise


Rising senior Erika Llivicota-Guaman standing in a blue career dress with white blazer
Rising junior Keith Mathews with hands folded in a blue linen suit jacket and white dress shirt
Rising senior Anthony Freay tying his sneaker in tan khakis, a blue dress shirt and patterned tie
Sheydline Moise wearing a black headwrap in a pinstripe blouse and black slacks

The O’Toole Family Presidential Scholarship delivers on its promise


Amid the camera flashes, hugs and cheers on Commencement day, Polly and Terry O’Toole VSB ’80 beamed with pride at their two graduates. Alex Alberti ’19 COE and Mafatta Janeh ’19 CLAS aren’t their children, but they are undoubtedly part of the O’Toole legacy at Villanova.

In 2013, the couple committed to a $10 million gift to establish the endowed O’Toole Family Presidential Scholarship — Alex and Mafatta were the first recipients. “This day is a dream come true for us. We couldn’t be prouder to have you be the first O’Toole Scholars to graduate from Villanova,” Terry O’Toole told the graduates as they shared brunch together. “Hopefully you’re the first of 100 to come through this program.”

This unique promise scholarship model— the first of its kind at Villanova — gives two high-potential, high-achieving high school sophomores from the Archdiocese of Newark , N.J., the opportunity to attend Villanova with all expenses paid for four years.

“When opportunity and promise meet, a spark is created,” explains J. Leon Washington, Villanova’s dean of Enrollment Management. “The vision was to look for young persons who had promise but who may not have encountered this type of opportunity.” That vision belonged to Washington’s predecessor, the late Stephen Merritt ’78 CLAS, who came up with the idea when the O’Tooles approached him with their desire to do something different and distinctive.

“Unfortunately Mr. Merritt passed away our freshman year, so he didn’t get to see it come to fruition,” Alex says. “But he helped get it started, which I am really thankful for because a scholarship like this is immeasurable. This moment has been seven years in the making, and it feels like only yesterday I was interviewing for it.”

Wearing his regalia, Alex Alberi receives a graduation gift from Polly and Terry O’Toole

Polly and Terry O’Toole VSB ’80 catch up with O’Toole Scholar graduate Alex Alberti ’19 COE and present him with a personal gift on graduation day.


We couldn’t be prouder to have you be the first O’Toole Scholars to graduate from Villanova. Hopefully you’re the first of 100 to come through this program.”

Terry O’Toole ’80 VSB

In Their Words

Headshot of recent graduate Mafatta Janeh

Mafatta Janeh ’19 CLAS

Major: Biology

“I want to combine my love for science with my desire to help underserved communities. The opportunity that was given to me doesn’t happen to the average person, and so to be able to use what I was given and complete what the O’Tooles wanted is so valuable to me.“

Headshot of recent graduate Alex Alberti

Alexander Alberti ’19 CLAS

Major: Civil Engineering

“Every day in high school, we'd pass by low-income housing that looked like container boxes stacked on top of each other. I felt like it wasn’t fair—everyone should have the decency of growing up in a home they can be proud to live in. That's what gave me the idea to be an engineer—eventually I'd like to design low-income housing that does that.”

Headshot of rising senior Anthony Freay

Anthony Freay ’20 CLAS

Majors: Computer Science and Psychology

“As both a first-generation American and college student, my mother’s comfortability in Villanova was a huge factor in my decision to attend. Her sacrifices and support have gotten me where I am today and come spring 2020, I will be the first in my family to graduate—the culmination of her American Dream.”

Headshot of rising senior Erika Llivicota-Guaman

Erika Llivicota-Guaman ’20 VSB

Majors: Accounting and Finance

“I’m the first one in my family to go to college. Simply having the opportunity to go to college is something I wouldn’t have had in Ecuador where I was born—I feel blessed to have this opportunity that many people don’t have.”

Headshot of rising junior Keith Mathews

Keith Mathews ’21 CLAS

Major: History

“Even though Villanova is fairly big in terms of enrollment, you don't feel like a statistic, you feel like a person, which is a really big deal for me. My professors are really approachable, and I know it's always an option to talk with them.”

Headshot of rising sophomore Julia Jureidini

Julia Jureidini ’22 VSB

Major: Accounting

“I always want to be that person—for other O’Toole Scholars— who’s approachable, who’s visible, who’s available, who can show them the way.”

Headshot of rising sophomore Sheyldine Moise

Sheydline Moise ’22 CLAS

Major: Communication

“I would love to give back in the future. I would really love to go back to my high school in my hometown and provide them with the kind of opportunity that I have because a lot of them have the capability but they just don't have somebody to believe in them.”

Identifying the Spark

Just two weeks after Alex and Mafatta became the first O’Toole Scholar alumni, six finalists began the same interview process to follow in their footsteps.

The O’Tooles aren’t involved in the actual selection of the students who receive the scholarship — and that’s the way they designed it. “It’s a completely University-run program,” Polly O’Toole says. “A selection committee interviews the students, and they make the hard choices about who will receive the scholarships.”

With so many factors and promising candidates to consider, Villanova established the multidisciplinary committee to represent several academic and co-curricular departments critical in supporting the recipients throughout their transition to and arrival at Villanova:

  • University Admission: Director Michael Gaynor
  • University Career Center: Executive Director Kevin Grubb, assistant vice provost of Professional Development
  • Center for Access, Success and Achievement: Nicole Davis, associate director of Retention and Outreach Counseling
  • Diversity and Inclusion: Associate Vice Provost Teresa Nance, PhD, chief diversity officer
  • Enrollment Management: Dean Leon Washington and Vice Dean Cathy Connor
  • Honors Program: Thomas Smith, PhD, Anne Quinn Welsh Director

“Besides the generosity of the O’Tooles, I think the team effort and composition of our selection committee is one of the major keys to the success of the scholarship,” Connor says. “We’re making sure the scholars are supported from start to finish: academically, economically, emotionally and socially.”

This year, the committee received 19 nomination letters from 11 high schools in the Archdiocese of Newark—a record high in the seven years they’ve been doing this. They met in early May to narrow the pool down to fewer than 10 applicants, looking at the principal’s nomination letter, PSAT scores, report cards, rigorous courses, extracurriculars and the personal essays each applicant has to write.

In addition to measurable factors like grades and test scores, nuanced non-cognitive skills like leadership, grit, critical thinking and tenacity weigh heavily in their decision. “These students bring huge advantages,” Dr. Smith says. “They bring a different perspective in our classes — a different set of questions, a different set of experiences, a different set of challenges they’ve overcome in their lives, and everyone in the class learns from that.”

By the Numbers

$10 million

endowed scholarship gift

7 multidisciplinary members

serve on the O’Toole Selection Committee

4 high school students

from the Archdiocese of Newark selected as scholarship recipients

7 O’Toole Scholars

currently enrolled at Villanova

2 alumni

O’Toole Scholars graduated

Paying It Forward

On his first day at Villanova’s School of Business, Terry O’Toole ’80 VSB received an invitation from Dean Al Clay to step into his office. The intimidating request came with reassuring words. “He said, ’You’re one of our first Presidential Scholars in the business school, and we want to make sure we do this thing right,’” O’Toole recalls.

A former accountant with a formal exterior, Dean Clay proved to be a supportive mentor who watched out for O’Toole over the next four years. After graduation, O'Toole received another invite to the dean’s office — this time, he was surprised to receive a card with a personal check from Dean Clay. “It was his graduation gift to me,” O’Toole says. “He was proud of me, and he really cared.”

O’Toole went on to a successful Wall Street career at Goldman Sachs and several private investment firms before founding his own, Macanta. Dean Clay's gesture and his gratitude for the full scholarship he received stuck with him. Over the years, O'Toole has given back to Villanova in just about every conceivable way. As he finished his tenure as chairman of the University’s Board of Trustees and took on the role of co-chair of Villanova’s capital campaign in 2012, he wanted to do something different and distinctive.

Residents of Short Hills, N.J., just 12 miles outside of Newark, O’Toole and his wife, Polly, have been very involved for years with the Scholarship Fund for Inner-City Children, an organization that raises money and provides assistance to students attending school in the Archdiocese of Newark from first grade to high school. “With Terry’s love for Villanova and desire to give back, we thought creating an endowment scholarship tied to the SFIC program would be a great thing,” Polly O’Toole says.

The late Stephen Merritt ’78 CLAS, who was Villanova’s dean of Enrollment Management at the time, came up with the idea of a promise scholarship that would identify academically high-achieving SFIC students with leadership ability early in their high school careers and support them in their transition to Villanova. That promise came to fruition this past May, with the first two O’Toole Family Presidential Scholar graduates to complete the program. With 11 more students following in their footsteps, the future looks promising, too.

“One of my hopes for the program would be that we inspire other alumni to create similar programs in other cities — my dream would be to have two O’Toole Scholars from the Archdiocese in Newark, and then someone else endows scholars from Boston and Chicago and Philadelphia and so on,” O’Toole says. “The most fulfilling gifts of all are the endowment gifts that allow promising students who otherwise couldn't afford it to get an education. That’s what it’s all about.”

Polly and Terry O’Toole smiling in front of stained glass windows in the chapel

Polly and Terry O’Toole VSB ’80, founders of the O’Toole Family Presidential Scholarship Program


Just the Beginning

The committee gets an even better sense of each finalist when they meet for an intensive full-day interview in Newark at the Archdiocese headquarters. While the students are interviewing, Grubb and Connor talk to the parents about Villanova and the college process in general.

“For these parents to get their students to a Catholic high school in the Archdiocese, they’ve already made tremendous commitments, and you just see that love for their kids when they’re asking questions,” Connor says.

There’s one question she gets every year: “Someone will say, ‘Explain this again — these people are really willing to pay for two students to go to Villanova full time for four years?’” Connor says. “It’s hard to comprehend.”

The committee reconvenes on campus to deliberate and select the next two scholars from that group. “It’s such a diverse, broad committee that we have a good feel for whether a particular individual is likely to flourish on our campus,” Washington says. “These young women and men have developed excellent critical-thinking skills from their life experiences. And you get that sense of, ‘Oh boy, there’s a leader here in the making.’”

At many schools, that would be the end of the process, but at Villanova, it’s just the beginning. With decades of experience in admissions, Merritt was convinced that opportunity alone doesn’t guarantee success—it needs to come with the right support.

What makes this scholarship unique is that you build a relationship with the donors as well as all the people involved in the scholarship selection.”

Erika Llivicota-Guaman ’20 VSB

Upon selection of the newest scholars, Villanova works with each of their respective high schools and meets with the students two to three times a year to get them thinking early about what they need to do to prepare for college and what they need to do to stay on track.

“What makes this scholarship unique is that you build a relationship with the donors as well as all the people involved in the scholarship, and they’re always there whenever you need them,” says Erika Llivicota-Guaman ’20 VSB, who’s entering her senior year at Villanova.

Upon graduation from high school, the students are accepted into Villanova University as Presidential Scholars. This year, for the first time, the O’Toole Presidential Scholarship pipeline is full—from four high school students preparing for their future at the University, to seven current Villanova students and now two alumni who have completed the program.

“The goal is for this program to exist long after we’re gone and hopefully just keep self-generating and growing and building this family of O’Toole Scholars,” Terry O’Toole says. “It would be great in 15 years to look back and see that we have 30 or 40 students who have gone through the program and the older ones are helping to mentor the younger ones, shaping future generations of scholars at Villanova.” ◼︎

From Day One to Graduation Day

The transition from high school to college can be a challenging one, especially making a move to Villanova from Newark, N.J., where a quarter of families live below the poverty line. “This scholarship isn’t just paying the bills; it's more than that,” says Teresa Nance, Ph.D., associate vice provost for Diversity and Inclusion and chief diversity officer at Villanova. “We’re taking care of the whole student, thinking both on the macro level and also on the personal level.”

At the deepest layer of that personal level is Nicole Davis, associate director of Retention and Outreach Counseling in the Center for Access, Success and Achievement. She is part of the unique support system that begins for the O’Toole Scholars as soon as they’re selected in their sophomore year of high school.

“Nicole takes mentorship to a different level. It’s hard to put everything she does into words because it’s all-encompassing,” says Polly O’Toole. Davis goes to Newark twice a year to meet with each student throughout their junior and senior years, ensuring that they have the right courses they’ll need to succeed at Villanova, identifying summer programs and prep courses that may ease the transition, and answering the questions they might be hesitant to ask.

“Having a history with them and knowing them from high school is so key in building a relationship with them,” Davis says. “Before they even walk in the door, they know, ‘I have someone I can reach out to at any time.’”

That relationship continues to evolve when they arrive at Villanova, where Davis meets with them twice a month. “I’ve known Miss Davis since I was 15. We talk about everything. How’s school going? How are you? How’s your stress level?” says Shedyline Moise ’22 CLAS. “She’s like my mother on campus.”

Davis has helped students come out of their shell, transition through homesickness, join new clubs, discover their interests. “I ask them, ‘What do you love? What are you passionate about?’” she says. “I encourage them to take advantage of the full experience a scholarship like this offers.”

Recent graduates Alex Alberti and Mafatta Janeh in regalia with mentor and O’Toole Scholar Committee Member Nicole Davis

Nicole Davis, associate director of Retention and Outreach Counseling in the Center for Access, Success and Achievement, with the first two O'Toole Scholar alumni, Alex Alberti ’19 COE and Mafatta Janeh ’19 CLAS.


O’Toole Scholar Committee Member Dr. Teresa Nance shakes hands with O’Toole Scholar Jonathan Marte
Rising sophomore Julia Jureidini smiling in conversation at the O’Toole Scholar Luncheon
Polly and Terry O’Toole talking with incoming O’Toole Scholars Jonathan Marte and Bryan Barahona at the O’Toole Luncheon

(From left) In April, scholarship recipients Bryan Barahona and Jonathan Marte and their families spent the day on Villanova's campus for the annual O'Toole Scholar luncheon. Finishing up her freshman year at Villanova, O’Toole Scholar Julia Jureidini ’22 VSB was excited to welcome the newest scholarship recipients to campus.


A Community of Scholars

Just as the scholarship recipients begin building a relationship with Villanova as soon as they’re selected, they also become a part of the O’Toole Scholar community right away. Almost immediately, they begin developing connections with the O’Toole Selection Committee, the other O’Toole Scholars and donors Polly and Terry O’Toole ’80 VSB.

“One of the great things about working in a program like this is you get to meet these students in high school. You get to see their potential and watch it unfold,” says Thomas Smith, PhD, Anne Quinn Welsh Director of the Honors Program.

In their junior year of high school, the scholarship recipients come to Villanova’s campus in the spring with their families for a luncheon with the current O’Toole Scholars, members of the selection committee, Provost Patrick G. Maggitti, PhD, and University President the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, PhD, ’75 CLAS. They tour the campus, talk about expectations and explore the resources that will be available to them.

“When I was at the luncheon this year meeting the next generation of O’Toole Scholars, I couldn’t believe it’s only been two years since I was sitting on the other side of the table,” says Julia Jureidini ’22 VSB. “I was so excited to help out with their tour of campus and talk about my experience with Villanova because that luncheon really stood out to me as a high school student —i t was just one of those amazing moments where I realized, ‘Wow, this is really happening, and it’s such an honor to be here.’”

In addition to this annual luncheon, the O’Tooles catch up and chat with the scholars at events throughout the year, including Villanova’s Endowed Scholar Dinner and the Scholarship Fund for Inner-City Children Annual Gala at the Archdiocese Center in Newark.

“You’re getting to know the people who are benefiting from your gift, and, as a donor, that’s a tremendous thing,” Terry O’Toole says. “It doesn’t really get any better than that.”

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Opening Doors

The O’Toole Presidential Scholarship Program, seven years after its founding, celebrated a milestone this year as the first O’Toole Scholars graduated. Many Villanovans have stepped forward over the years to open the doors to a Villanova education for thousands of students, and several of those scholarship programs have also recently celebrated milestones.

James C. Curvey Endowed Scholarship

Now in its 20th year, the Curvey Scholarship and Fellowship Program was created by James Curvey ’57 VSB for students from Schuylkill County, Pa., where Curvey grew up. In addition to scholarship funds to attend Villanova, Curvey Scholars receive a fellowship to travel anywhere in the world after graduation. To date, 43 Curvey Scholars have graduated from the program.

Connelly-Delouvrier International Scholars Program

Funded by the Connelly Foundation in memory of Judith Connelly-Delouvrier, who died in the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996, the Connelly-Delouvrier International Scholars Program has supported semester-long international study abroad trips for Honors Program students for the past 20 years. Fifteen years ago, the program was expanded to offer international health care experiences for Nursing students. More than 1,000 students have benefitted from the programs.

Anthony Randazzo Endowed Presidential Scholarship

Tony Randazzo ’65 COE and his wife, Marge, established the Anthony Randazzo Endowed Presidential Scholarship in support of underrepresented students from Philadelphia who demonstrate academic achievement or promise. The Randazzo Scholarship now provides full tuition, room, board and fees for one student per class year. Forty-seven recipients have been supported by the program over the past 25 years.

Herbert G. Rammrath International Scholarships

The Herbert G. Rammrath Endowed Fund for Global Initiatives and International Scholarships provides financial resources to support international students attending VSB as well as outgoing VSB students’ participation in a study abroad experience. In the last decade, Herbert G. Rammrath ’57 VSB has provided more than $350,000 in scholarship funding for more than 200 students, including 36 international students from nine countries and students studying abroad in 25 countries.

Philadelphia Futures

Villanova will welcome its first cohort of Philadelphia Futures Scholars this fall. With support from the Lenfest Foundation, three Philadelphia students will receive full-tuition scholarships to Villanova, and the program will grow over the coming years to include 12 scholars enrolled annually. The University will also provide stipends for these students to study abroad, conduct research and access other experiential learning activities.

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