Although she has lived in Scottsdale most of her life, Jennifer DeSai knew nothing about a local group that gives financial awards to academically deserving college students majoring in natural science, medicine and engineering.
"We’re stuck in a lab always thinking, ‘Do people care?’ " said DeSai, who graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering.
"This group really believes in helping graduate students. They want to keep in contact with us and know as much as they can about our work. They really do care."
The Achievement Rewards for College Scientists Foundation began as a technological response to the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite.
The group has touched the lives of millions throughout the United States in nearly 50 years of existence.
It started in 1958 in Los Angeles when a group of 53 women, all philanthropic leaders, committed to reestablishing U.S. technological superiority. Its Phoenix chapter started in 1975.
Joseph Palais, associate chairman for graduate studies at Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering, told DeSai and some of his other students about the group.
Agnes Johnson of Scottsdale, past president of the foundation’s Phoenix chapter, said, "I’ve been working with ARCS for 30 years and have seen the fantastic things they do."
"There are no strings attached. We give money to people to help them in their studies. Many of them are married, so they can go forth with their work with less worry after we help them," Johnson said.
The Phoenix chapter has 88 active, associate and life members. Of those, 22 live in Paradise Valley — including president Irene Douglas — and 15 in Scottsdale. The group holds its meetings in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley.
The Phoenix chapter has awarded $2,643,400 in scholarships to 317 undergraduate and graduate students at Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University.
A student receiving a scholarship must have a high scholastic record, proven ability in a scientific field and be a U.S. citizen. Phoenix foundation scholarships are $6,000 for one year.
One recipient who has used his talent and award wisely is Nhan Le Tran, a postdoctoral fellow and scientist at the Translational Genomics Research Institute at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix.
Tran, who researches brain cancer cells in hopes of finding a cure, came to the United States from Vietnam two days before the fall of Saigon in 1975 when he was 18 months old.
His family was among those whose images were captured for history as they handed their children into helicopters on the roof of the U.S. Embassy as they fled their native land.
"ARCS has provided me with financial support and support for my research," said Tran, who received $6,000 per year from 1999 to 2001.
"They have played a big part in what I do. It’s great to know you are on the cutting edge of science. It’s exciting to get to meet with people who have raised money to help us and dedicate their efforts and time to fund graduate students who hope their works make a difference," Tran said.
"There isn’t a lot of funding out there for grad students. ARCS does it and they show interest in what we do."
That, DeSai said, is what makes the group distinct. She’s in a doctorate program and is working on monolithic power management for handheld transmitters. That involves researching and proposing circuit configurations that meet the demands of rapidly advancing radio frequency technology.
"It’s great to know someone believes in what you’re doing," said DeSai. "That means almost as much as the scholarship does."