Former Scholarship Recipient Gives UWM $2 Million

January 22, 2018
Dr. Babs Waldman and Avi Shaked '80 meet scholarship recipient Tim Hennessey (center).

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee alumnus and former scholarship recipient Avi Shaked, along with his wife, Babs Waldman, MD, has given the university $2 million for scholarships in the College of Engineering & Applied Science and for the Lubar Entrepreneurship Center. This gift brings the couple’s total giving to UWM to $4 million.

“Avi Shaked and Babs Waldman are models of generosity,” UWM Chancellor Mark Mone said. “Avi is a success story, and we are so proud to call him an alumnus of UWM. He’s someone who has lived the American dream and is now helping others do the same. Avi and Babs understand the power of scholarships – how they advance individuals and strengthen institutions – and I am enormously grateful for their commitment to helping our engineering students and for strengthening entrepreneurship at UWM.”

Shaked came to UWM in 1977 from Israel and had to quickly learn English. He enrolled in engineering classes. After his first semester, a friend suggested he apply for a scholarship – something Shaked knew nothing about. He applied and, because of his good grades, received a full-ride scholarship that enabled him to focus solely on his classes without having to hold a job while he went to school. Because he had more time to study, he took the maximum number of credits (21) per semester, graduating in 1980 from the electrical engineering and pre-dental programs.

Shaked began his career working for Milwaukee entrepreneur and philanthropist Nate Zelazo at Astronautics Corporation of America before becoming a computer design engineer at IBM. After just a few years, he launched his own company called Onward Technologies, which provides IT services and custom software development to corporations.

Several years after selling the business, Shaked and Waldman began to examine what they valued most in life, knowing that their answers would drive their philanthropy. “I’m a big believer in education,” Shaked said. “I wouldn’t be where I am without the education I got at UWM. My scholarship meant a lot to me. It made the difference. If I hadn’t received a scholarship, I would have had to work for minimum wage; I wouldn’t have been able to take as many classes as I took, and I probably wouldn’t do as well as I did.”

Waldman says philanthropy is in her DNA. A physician and assistant professor of Internal Medicine at Rush University Medical College and Northwestern University Medical School, she serves as the volunteer medical director of the largest free clinic in the United States and is active in community development and medical work in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Shaked and Waldman gave their first million-dollar gift to UWM in 2005 and their second million in 2011 – all for scholarships. UWM was so excited with the impact of the scholarship program on the engineering school that the school decided to match dollar for dollar and expand the program. Thus, their giving launched the Engineering Excellence Scholarship Program, which provides four-year renewable scholarships at the College of Engineering & Applied Science. Since 2006, the couple has helped over 550 undergraduate engineering students at UWM. These scholarships are based on merit, such as grade point average, class rankings and test scores.

For many students, the Shaked Waldman Scholarship was the deciding factor in choosing UWM over other universities. In addition to being a powerful recruiting tool, the Shaked Waldman Scholarships have helped raise the caliber of engineering students at UWM. In the 11 years the scholarship has been awarded, the average GPA has risen from 3.19 to 3.42; the retention rate of freshman students in the College of Engineering & Applied Science went from 73.5 percent to 80 percent; and enrollment has increased 24 percent.

“The impact that Avi and Babs’s generosity has had on the College of Engineering & Applied Science has been incredible,” Dean Brett Peters said. “They have allowed us to attract students to UWM, elevate the profile of our undergraduates and keep them in the engineering program. This not only benefits our college and the university, it’s also a huge plus for businesses who hire our graduates. I could not be more grateful to Avi and Babs for all they have done for our students and our college.”

Each year, Shaked and Waldman have the opportunity to meet with their students and learn firsthand what a difference their gifts have made. “I love the students,” Waldman said. “With philanthropy, it’s not always easy to see impact, but here, you’re meeting people who are using what you’ve done and who are really appreciative. It’s really fun for us.”

Shaked makes a point of encouraging these students to help others through scholarships when they are able. “My wish is for more people to give money for scholarships – it doesn’t have to be a million dollars,” he said. “Just participate – it makes such a huge difference in a student’s life.”

Half of the couple’s recent $2 million gift will support engineering scholarships, while the other million is earmarked for the Lubar Entrepreneurship Center. As an entrepreneur himself, Shaked sees the value in exposing students to innovative thinking and problem solving.

“Avi Shaked took risks and seized opportunities, and he became incredibly successful,” said Brian Thompson, director of the Lubar Entrepreneurship Center. “He understands what it takes to build a company from the ground up. This gift from Avi and Babs will strengthen our entrepreneurship program and allow us to share critical skills with more UWM students.”

Shaked says he feels wonderful whenever he is reminded of the impact his giving has made at UWM.

“I’m delighted to meet the students, and it’s such incredible feedback for me,” he says. “But I was so committed that I would do it even if nobody told me one word of thanks – because I got it, and I know what it means. If you’ve been on the other side, you know what it means, and nobody has to tell you ‘thank you’ for you to know how much it affects them.”

Avi Shaked’s and Babs Waldman’s gift supports UWM’s comprehensive fundraising effort, Made in Milwaukee, Shaping the World: The Campaign for UWM. Focused on raising support for students, research and community engagement, the campaign has a goal of $200 million, the largest in UWM’s history.