Small giving, large impact

Gifts of amounts as much as $1,000 can make a tremendous impact in the life of a student in need, and one UAB donor is working to make that a reality.

small giving streamGifts of amounts as much as $1,000 can make a tremendous impact in the life of a student in need, and one UAB donor is working to make that a reality.Sanjay Singh, Ph.D., remembers what it was like when $1,000 meant the difference between being able to continue in his studies or not.

Today, Singh is a successful entrepreneur and investor in Birmingham, Alabama. But when he was in school, he worked up to three jobs to eventually earn his Ph.D. from the University of Georgia. Being $1,000 short — even after scholarships and grants — could have meant the end of his academic career. He is not alone: Often even after tuition is paid, many students leave school every year because they cannot cover a last-minute expense, like fixing a broken-down car, finding eleventh-hour childcare, caring for a relative in an emergency or covering an unexpected medical bill.

Knowing firsthand the impact that a small gift can make, Singh and his wife, Dora, decided to do something about this problem and established a $1 million endowment at the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a goal of eventually affording 100 students every year $1,000 in emergency- or need-based scholarships, in perpetuity. In 2022, the endowment will support 30 students in need.

“When people think about philanthropy and scholarships as a part of an institution, they think $100,000 or $1 million,” Singh said. “But $1,000 can make an impact on somebody’s life.”

The Dora and Sanjay Singh Scholarship was established in 2020 to provide COVID-19 emergency aid. Since then, the fund has continued to support students with emergency aid for a variety of reasons. Scholarships from the Singhs have covered financial needs including living expenses, food expenses, educational costs, medical costs, transportation costs and more. It is but one way Singh has given back to UAB, where he began his career as a faculty member nearly 30 years ago, teaching and supervising master’s and doctoral students in the Collat School of Business, School of Engineering, the Department of Computer Science and Health Services Administration.

“In 1993, I came here as a nobody,” he said. “I had just finished my Ph.D. at Georgia, and [wife] Dora and I knew no souls. I walked in with $30,000 in debt and started working at the UAB business school. Total strangers’ help and assistance from people who had no vested interest in us brought me to UAB.”

Now in a place to give back financially, when the Singhs were deciding where their philanthropic focus would be, all roads kept leading back to education. 

“I’m an educator, and we wanted to focus more on education — education is what brought us to this country,” Singh said; he originally hails from India, and his wife is from El Salvador. “Without it, we would have nothing. Education changed Dora’s and my life’s trajectory. Only in the U.S. can immigrants literally turn dreams into reality through educational opportunities.”

Singh sees each $1,000 as an investment in the lifetime impact of a student.

Click here to learn more about making an impact in the lives of UAB students through a financial contribution.

“From a pure returns perspective, investing $1,000 in a student — the fact he or she can stay in school and complete a degree, imagine their earning potential,” he said. “Imagine their contribution to society. The goal here is to make an impact on their lives. How we create success stories in this country is through the higher education system.” 

The Singhs have given back to UAB in myriad ways — not just through this scholarship — but also through creating giving platforms like the Dora and Sanjay Singh Global Arts Fund at the Alys Stephens Center, Dora and Sanjay Singh Scholarship for Computer Science, and the Dora and Sanjay Singh Endowed MIS Research Fund. Additionally, they also support UAB Athletics and global news programming at WBHM. The Singhs see the impact of investing in higher education in the lives of their own children, who are 20 and 25, and their friends. His daughter, Indira, is currently attending UAB, and his son, Vivek, graduated from UAB with degrees from the Collat School of Business and the College of Arts and Sciences.

“I want these kids to graduate,” Singh said. “Imagine being a student who fought all the battles, hindrances and obstacles to get to college. They come to a city, uproot from their family and, because of the last $1,000, must drop out. I lived through this. I lived through the total generosity of complete strangers — I stayed in college because some church or school gave $250 or $500 or $1,000 to keep supplementing our educational journey. We would not be here if others had not given to us. It’s very simple.”

“We are truly grateful to Sanjay and Dora for their generous support and willingness to pay it forward,” said Tom Brannan, vice president for Advancement and Strategic Initiatives. “Their spirit of generosity and understanding of the impact they can make in the lives of students at UAB is clearly seen through their commitment to transform lives and improve our communities.”

Through this gift, the Singhs hopes to show that, while large gifts are admirable, giving what you can — even if it is $1,000 — is better than not giving at all.

“It’s very simple — small giving, large impact,” he said, adding they hope others will join them in this journey, $1,000 at a time.