Over 75 University of Michigan community members gathered in the new Kessler Student Center, located in the recently renovated LSA Building, to celebrate the new space on Friday. The Center features floor-to-ceiling windows and provides an environment for students to meet and study with one another. Couches and stand-up tables — nearly all with access to natural sunlight — are dispersed throughout the space.
The center is named in honor of Fred Wilpon and Judy Kessler Wilpon, who both graduated from the University in 1958. Fred Wilpon attended the University on a scholarship and was the first person in his family to attend college.
Friday’s event recognized the support and donations of the Wilpon family, who made a $40 million donation in 2021 to endow the Kessler Presidential Scholars Program, which provides scholarships and support systems for first-generation students. Since its creation in 2017, the program has supported more than 400 students at the University and has expanded to 15 other academic institutions across the country.
Judy Kessler Wilpon’s parents, Irene and Morris B. Kessler, in addition to their daughters Bonnie and Mickie, also graduated from the University. The Kessler family has collectively donated more than $75 million to the University, and $61 million of those donations have gone directly to the creation and expansion of the Kessler Presidential Scholars Program.
LSA Dean Anne Curzan gave opening remarks at the ceremony, saying her favorite part of the building is being able to see the students right outside her office. Even while working late nights, Curzan said she still feels a sense of community. She said the building is more than just another place for classrooms and student resources.
“This place and new space has become the home of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts,” Curzan said. “(It is) a place where students can come and study. They can meet friends. They can get information from the navigation desk, which is behind me, and find a whole host of key resources here. So, in that way, the LSA addition which we are standing in, which is named the Kessler Student Center, resonates with the vision of the Kessler Scholarship Program.”
Curzan thanked the Wilpons for their contribution to the program. She said plaques will be installed at the front and back entrances of the LSA building to convey the importance of the space and to tell the Wilpons’ story.
“All of you who are students here, you’re at the center of everything we do here, and we now have a place that puts students physically at the center of the college, and we really love that,” Curzan said. “I’m thrilled to formally recognize Judy and Fred Wilpon, who are here today with family and friends (for) the naming of the Kessler Student Center.”
Curzan also spoke to the importance of creating “generational impact,” and how a program like the Kessler Scholars can change how students embark on their college journey for decades to come.
“We feel very confident about the remarkable legacy that you are going to create for the students who come after you as well as the legacy that you’re going to create for your families and your friends,” Curzan said. “We know that none of us get where we are by ourselves.”
LSA senior Jared Gonder, a Kessler Scholar, also spoke at the event and said the program has provided him a space to ask questions without judgment and to find a sense of belonging at the University.
“Imposter syndrome, that sort of self-doubt about my abilities and the belief that I’m a fraud, isn’t exactly new to me at this time, but it certainly was exacerbated by the uncertainty that was engendered by the application process,” Gonder said. “(But once I walked into the Kessler Scholars office,) I realized I already had a strong and well-established support system on campus before classes even started.”
Gonder added that the new Kessler Student Center is another step towards better supporting first-generation students.
“I think the idea of support is, at least to me, what makes the naming of this student center so impactful, so inspiring,” Gonder said. “It’s a symbol of the uniquely unwavering wraparound support that U of M offers its students.”
Alaa Shahin, recent graduate of the School of Information, said the LSA Building — which was re-opened in January 2020 — was important to her because it gave her access to student resources such as the LSA Opportunity Hub. As a transfer student, Shahin said the space allowed her to make new friends.
“This space has been so important to me, not only because of the resources that I use, but also because of the people that I found in this space that will relate to me,” Shahin said. “In spending time in the lobby, I was able to find people who can relate to me in so many ways, as a transfer student, as non-traditional, and (through) all of the challenges that I was going through.”
Rackham student Sarah Meer, intern at the LSA Opportunity Hub, said the space is important to all students, not just those in LSA.
“The significance of the student center space is one that is really felt by students across campus, not just in LSA, but across every school and college,” Meer said. “I know this to be true because, in addition to being an intern at the (Opportunity) Hub, I’m also a student on this campus. I take classes in the School of Education, but nevertheless, this space is one that has really supported me as a student during my time here.”
After the event, Adan Hussain, director of the Kessler Presidential Scholars Program, spoke to The Michigan Daily about how this new space is certainly an asset to all students, but particularly for first-generation students.
“Coming to U of M, I had heard a lot from students that you feel like you’re on the margins as a first generation student,” Hussain said. “Students would talk about that intimidation, like ‘Am I really supposed to be here, since so many other folks have parents who’ve gone here, who can do things that they’re not able to?’ I think the naming (tells students), absolutely, you’re meant to be here and you’re meant to be among others. I think that this is really special for the Kessler Scholars … It’s everybody’s but especially special to them.”
Daily Staff Reporter Rachel Mintz and Daily Contributor Bobby Housel can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction 9/14: The attendance count at the top of this article has been updated to reflect the estimated 75 – 100 U-M community members who were at the opening ceremony.