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THE STRUGGLE IS REAL

Linda Kauffman and David Gray

BY JACKIE ZAKREWSKY

UMD Professor of English Linda Kauffman knows all the ways that students scrimp and save to find enough money to stay in school.

During nearly 30 years of teaching within the UMD English department, this distinguished scholar-teacher has worked closely with “numerous students who, in addition to academic pressures, were struggling to make ends meet,” she wrote in an e-mail. 

That reality recently spurred her and her husband, David Gray, to establish two funds via a bequest: the Linda Kauffman Endowed Scholarship for English Majors and the Linda Kauffman Endowed Dissertation Summer Research Award. 

Both the need-based undergraduate scholarships and the summer research award for doctoral students have a single aim— to ensure that financial challenges do not prevent talented students from pursuing their goals in higher education. 

“I heard many stories from Linda about the plight of students she mentored,” said Gray. “In one case, a sickly-looking student was trying to cut costs by skimping on food.” 

Kauffman knows firsthand what it means to be a struggling student. 

“My parents constantly reminded me that the only way I could go to college was through scholarships and jobs,” says Kauffman. 

She describes her parents as “highly intelligent people who, in better circumstances, would have been able to pursue their intellectual interests. Instead, no matter how hard they worked, they were chronically short of cash. This was the plight, my mother said, of ‘the working poor.’” 

Kauffman, who grew up in Southern California, majored in her two favorite subjects, English and French, at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her experience there inspired her giving to Maryland. 

“I wanted to provide Terp students with the same opportunities that I’d been given,” she said, including “mentors who cared and financial aid administrators who helped me scrape the money together to complete a bachelor’s and later a doctorate.” 

Kauffman is an author and award-winning essayist in contemporary fiction, feminism, and the arts, and has no plans to stop writing when she retires next year. A book in progress, “Material Witnesses: Transnational Texts for Our Times,” deals with multi-ethnic contemporary novelists who are keenly aware of historical crimes against humanity and use their art to testify and commemorate. 

The book, she noted, “has already involved considerable international travel to give lectures and do research, and I look forward to more.” 

In spring 2017, undergraduates will benefit from her considerable expertise one last time when she teaches two of her favorite courses: English 289X “Breaking News: Contemporary Literature, Media and the State” and ENGL 437 “Modern American Fiction.” 

Gray retired in 2009 from a career as a toxicologist devoted to public health, focusing on “those suffering as a result of working with toxic materials or residing in contaminated areas.” 

For him, supporting Maryland students is not too far of a stretch from the time he spent doing scientific research and providing testimony that contributed to one of the largest environmental settlements in history. 

“As with Linda, I see philanthropy as a natural extension of a career devoted to public service.”