Northeastern on Thursday night celebrated 10 years of the Torch Scholars Program, with members of the university community sharing powerful stories of how the program has empowered students, provided unimaginable opportunities, and transformed lives.
Northeastern’s Torch Scholars Program supports first-generation college students who exhibit potential in non-traditional ways, offering them full scholarships and a comprehensive array of resources to help them succeed—from mentoring and academic advising to a summer immersion program and social events aimed at fostering community and identity. The program has supported 107 students over the past decade, including 12 students who will enter the program this fall as the Torch 11 class.
The celebration, held in East Village, brought together university leaders, students, alumni, faculty, staff, donors, and many other supporters and champions of the Torch program. President Joseph E. Aoun recalled how learning about Torch was one of his first charges 10 years ago when he joined Northeastern. He said there was a common sentiment expressed by all the people who spoke about the program: “We want to remain true to our roots.”
Anthony R. Manganaro, E’67, H’08, a successful businessman in real estate, self-storage, and medical supplies, was instrumental in founding the Torch Scholars Program. He and his family provided the program’s first gift in 2005. At Thursday’s celebration, he became emotional when reflecting upon his own life’s journey and the impact of the Torch program.
“The Torch Scholars Program is effective altruism at its best,” said Manganaro, who received the Presidential Medallion in 2012. He also credited Philomena Mantella, senior vice president and CEO of the Northeastern University Global Network, for conceiving and shaping the Torch program.
“Over the past 10 years, Philly has been an inspiration to the entire Torch family,” he said. “Without her, we would not be here today.”
It was the chance that Northeastern took on me that has propelled me to be the first-generation professional I am today.
— Torch Scholar Yvette Almonte-Olivo, SSH’14
The audience also heard from two Torch Scholars about how the program has changed their lives. Yvette Almonte-Olivo, a New York City native, had doubts about attending and excelling at Northeastern. But she said Torch has “provided a world of opportunities academically, professionally, and personally.” Since graduating in 2014, she has worked at Willis Towers Watson—a global advisory, broking, and solutions company—where she was recently promoted to international account executive.
“It was the chance that Northeastern took on me that has propelled me to be the first-generation professional I am today,” said Almonte-Olivo, SSH’14.
Mabel Gonzalez Nunez, DMSB’20, recalled growing up in a housing development in Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood with two parents who didn’t speak English. She described at times feeling crushed with the amount of pressure on her shoulders, as she was not only a student but also a translator, a supporter, and a tutor. But she worked hard and excelled academically.
“A year ago today, I was graduating from St. Joe’s Preparatory High School,” she said. “Never would I have imagined that I’d be standing in front of you all excited, anxious, and most importantly, jetlagged. I just returned from a study abroad trip in Morocco.” The Torch program has also already inspired her to pursue her MBA.
Trustee Ted English, DMSB’76, CEO of Bob’s Discount Furniture, has supported the Torch program from the beginning. He said it’s the stories of students like Gonzalez Nunez that continue to move and inspire him.
“This is one of Northeastern’s great legacies: the Torch program,” English said.
At the conclusion of the event, Aoun announced that the Herb and Maxine Jacobs Foundation, which has already pledged to support one additional student to the Torch 10 and 11 cohorts, has pledged to support one more Torch Scholar per year to the Torch 12, 13, and 14 cohorts.