Handler's Lasting Legacy: First Scholarship Awarded

Handler's Lasting Legacy: First Scholarship Awarded

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Erica BourqueWhen senior Erica Bourque was studying in Budapest last year, her most profound experience was visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau. She had classroom knowledge of the atrocities that had occurred in the camps, but to stand in the places where the events happened was powerful. "To think that so many innocent people were treated in such a way is horrifying," says Bourque. "It was life-changing."

It's that capacity for empathy that drives Bourque, a psychology major from Londonderry, N.H. As she considers her options for life after UNH, one thing she knows for sure is that she wants to work with and for people, perhaps as a guidance counselor in schools or in a social services agency.

Because of a stellar academic record and her study in Budapest, Bourque has been chosen to receive the first Evelyn E. Handler Presidential Scholarship, an award that recognizes the former president of UNH who was born in Budapest in 1933 and died in December of 2011 in Bow, N.H. Bourque's willingness to push boundaries as well as her concern for those around her make her a fitting choice for remembering Evelyn Handler.

Appointed in 1980, Evelyn Handler was the first female president of UNH and the first woman in the nation to lead a land-grant university. A biologist by training, Handler was a determined person whose vision and perseverance during her three-year tenure resulted in $15 million in federal funds to build Morse Hall, a high-tech home for science and engineering that would raise the profile of the University. Handler once said, "If I have a dream for UNH, this is it." It's a dream she fulfilled.

Handler was equally committed to students—their academic growth and quality of life. Karen Johnson '84, a student body president during Handler's tenure, noted in UNH Today how compassionate and caring Handler was with students. Recalling the aftermath of a fellow student's funeral, Johnson remembers that Handler looked over at the gathering of distraught students. "She put down her bag and waded through the snow in her high heels, and didn't leave until she had talked to every single student in that group," said Johnson. "That kind of deep caring for the people around her—that was the president that I saw."

Handler left Durham to assume the presidency of Brandeis, but she had made her mark on the UNH community.

Evelyn HandlerBy joint agreement of the UNH Foundation and the College of Liberal Arts, the college will award annually the Evelyn E. Handler Presidential Scholarship to that outstanding rising senior woman who has participated in the Justice Studies Budapest Program or the Humanities Budapest Program. The award is in recognition of Handler's career-long commitment to excellence in and the advancement of scholarly work, and her birthplace in Budapest, Hungary.

"Evelyn Handler was a powerful voice for higher education in the United States over her long and distinguished career," says John T. Kirkpatrick, associate dean of the College. "While she was at UNH, she worked hard to expand and strengthen our research mission. Moreover, she cared deeply about the importance of encouraging students to push the limits of their talents to fulfill their promise as young scholars. The Handler scholarship is a lasting legacy of Evelyn's life work."

Ask Bourque why she chose Budapest as her study abroad destination and you can see a young scholar pushing her own limits in a way that might have made Handler proud.

"I'm from New Hampshire and coming to UNH was a safe choice. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and go to a country where the people don't speak English," says Bourque. "I liked the idea of going somewhere completely different and just throwing myself into it. It is something I don't regret doing at all. I changed for the better because of it."

A people person who values her time with friends and a large extended family (upwards of 30 cousins), Bourque is open, cheerful, and committed to making a difference.

This past summer, Bourque interned at the Upper Room family resource center in Derry, N.H. where she worked with teenagers performing community service projects in nursing homes, food pantries, and soup kitchens. Some of the teens volunteered; others were court-ordered to participate. Bourque spent time with the teens, got to know them, and tried to help in any way she could, as role model or confidante.

"I absolutely loved it," says Bourque. "Right now I'm just trying to figure out in which direction to go after I graduate. There are so many opportunities, so just trying to pick one is the hard part."

Of receiving the Handler Scholarship, Bourque says, "I was surprised and honored and proud of myself."

Written by Susan Dumais, The College Letter, September, 2013