UNLV senior Cheryl Johnston has a big heart and high aspirations. The adoptive mother of eight children, seven of whom have special needs, is receiving a degree in social sciences this spring, thanks to a scholarship made possible through the estate of Philip J. Cohen. Mr. Cohen's gift will fund more than 40 full scholarships a year for students such as Cheryl, who prove themselves deserving of support but may not qualify based solely on need or grades.
"I can only describe this gift as a show of extravagant generosity," says Johnston, a member of the inaugural class of Philip J. Cohen Scholars at UNLV and an aspiring social worker who will be applying her skills and compassion toward helping the elderly. The Philip J. Cohen Scholars Program is funded through an endowment that currently sits at $7 million. Over time, it has the potential to become one of the largest gifts for higher education scholarship in Nevada.
Cohen, a gaming and real estate executive who passed away in 2010, embodied the spirit of Las Vegas, according to his niece Joan Rudick. Growing up poor in Baltimore, he left school after the eighth grade but never abandoned his love for education. After staking his success in Southern Nevada, Cohen took night courses at UNLV. In fact, he was close to having enough credits to earn an undergraduate degree. "He loved the Runnin' Rebels and he loved UNLV," Rudick recalls. "My uncle was a real American success story. And now that story will continue through the Philip J. Cohen Scholars. There will be many more successes."
One of those success stories is being realized by Scholar Brian Unguren, a young father who is graduating with an English degree in May and will be entering law school this fall. "Most people think that the greatest opportunities for Las Vegas are on the Strip," Unguren says. "Mr. Cohen recognized that the real opportunity is a few miles to the easton the UNLV campus. That's where the future of Las Vegas is really being determined."
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