Seizing Opportunities

Photo by Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

Graduate Assistance Fund helps women create their future

As a five-year-old living in a Japanese concentration camp in Indochina during WW II, Bambi Shen didn’t even have a plate or bowl to call her own. All she got to eat at mealtime was what she could hold in her tiny hands.

But she had two things far more important than a bowl and a plate: a rose bush, and her father’s words.

Like their family, her father told her, the rose bush also had been planted in a concentration camp. And just like the rose bush, she needed to do what she was born to do: Bloom.

From that point on, she made a point of seizing the opportunities that came her way. As a result, she became an entrepreneur, a restaurateur, a philanthropist and a mentor – and the featured speaker at the 2014 Graduate Assistance Fund luncheon at the University of Missouri-Kansas City – a celebration of opportunities for women, and of generous donors providing the means to seize them.

The fund provides financial support to women in graduate and professional programs at UMKC; the fund grants are not for tuition or textbooks, but for educational experiences such as travel to conferences and seminars. Since 1971, nearly 1,600 women graduate students at UMKC have received Graduate Assistance Fund fellowships or immediate aid awards. The annual luncheon is designed to recognize the students receiving awards and to thank the donors who created and continue to support and maintain the fund.

At the luncheon, Debby Throckmorton, who oversaw the selection process for the UMKC Women’s Council, announced that the GAF Selection Committee awarded 84 recipients a total of $83,723 in fellowships this year. The recipients were selected from a record-high pool of 124 applicants – a 50 percent increase over last year’s total. She also announced that this year’s award total was boosted by a $25,000 grant from the Martha Jane Starr Field of Interest Fund.

A highlight of the program was a solo clarinet performance by GAF grant recipient Pei-Lun Tsai, a doctoral student in the Conservatory of Music and Dance; she performed Un Seul (Alone) by Kalmen Opperman.

Shen’s remarks, however, dominated the stage – a stage she shared with a framed photograph of herself posing with Elvis Presley in Memphis. She related how she and two friends visited Elvis’ home, Graceland, as undergraduate students. They were standing outside the gate and were about to leave when she caught sight of a staff member. She seized the moment and called out to him. The result: though Elvis was out of town, the three young women were invited back the following weekend to meet Presley.

The lesson, she said, was a simple one: speak up and seize the moments of opportunity when they arise.

“Dare to have the courage to take them, and do something with them.”

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