Staff member honors alumni parents with named scholarship

Mary Ellen and Frank Vaydik.

Mari Vaydik wanted to give her parents a different kind of Christmas gift last year.

“But what kind of presents can you get for people in their late 70s that they don’t already have?” said Vaydik, senior director of philanthropy and alumni relations for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Education has been so important to both of them, so I thought about what would be a perfect present.” 

With that idea in mind, she established the Frank and Mary Ellen Vaydik Annual Scholarship in honor of her parents. It’s also personal because Vaydik earned her master’s degree from Wayne State in 2004. So through a payroll deduction of $100 per paycheck, Vaydik created the scholarship, which is available to eligible CLAS students studying environmental science or English.

“My father studied economics at Wayne State, but his passion is the environment and environmental conservation. My mother was a journalism major and an English teacher,” Vaydik said.

Frank and Mary Ellen Vaydik, 78 and 76 years old, respectively, recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They met in 1967 when Frank worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield in Detroit and Mary Ellen taught English and journalism at Birmingham Groves High School.

Her parents accepted the Christmas gift and were touched by it, but “I don’t really think they initially understood what I was doing,” Vaydik joked. “Only recently when I had shared the gift agreement paperwork with them, my dad sent an email to me that read, ‘Oh my, this is a real thing.’”

Although the scholarship gift came from Vaydik, she made sure her parents were involved in the entire process. It was an eye-opening experience not only for Vaydik’s parents, but for her too.

“It was fun to walk through the scholarship with them because they better understood how I do my work, what it looks like and how donors are involved,” Vaydik said. “It’s given me a different perspective too. This is a jump for me, giving wise. And I’ve been able to see the experience my donors have, both in how the university communicated with me and in the feelings I’m having in learning about the recipient.”

The first recipient of the $2,500 scholarship is Orlando Rios, an undergrad who came to Wayne State from Puerto Rico to finish his degree in environmental science with a minor in geology. Rios had to leave his island home for an opportunity to further his education and research. Even before Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico in September 2017, budget cuts at the University of Puerto Rico limited Rios’ research future.

Orlando Rios, environmental science and geology student

Orlando Rios, environmental science and geology student

“I’m really excited that Orlando is the first recipient of this scholarship. He’s had a rough go of it, and I cannot think of someone more deserving to receive this scholarship,” Vaydik said. 

The Vaydiks’ support was not lost on Rios, who couldn’t believe he had received the financial award. “When I found out I got the scholarship, it reassured me,” Rios said. “Besides being thankful for the economic help, I want to thank (Mari) for her support because it means people believe in me. It’s an honor to receive it.”


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