During her junior year, Kit-Victoria (Weil) Wells ’87 found a flier in her dorm titled “Why would a freshman run for ASUR [Associated Students of the University of Redlands] President?” left by John Wells ’89. “I read his vision and was pretty sure I had stumbled on my soulmate,” remembers Kit. A political science major, she realized John was in one of her classes and volunteered to work on his ultimately successful campaign.
A year and a half later, John proposed to Kit while he was studying abroad in Hong Kong, and they were married two weeks after his graduation. “When we tell our story, Redlands is always in it,” notes John, whose Johnston emphasis was American and Asian history and politics. “I rarely hear people from other universities talk about their college experience and how it is so integrated into who they are. Thirty years later, our values are still aligned with the University.”
In 1970, Kit’s father, Chris, formed what is now Christopher Weil & Company Inc. Kit joined the firm in 1990, and John joined in 1993. John is now the president and CEO, and Kit is the chief information officer. The company’s success positioned the family as “more financially privileged than we ever expected to be,” so Kit’s parents, Chris and Pat, invited Kit, along with her brother, Matt, and sister, Caitlin, to form the Patricia & Christopher Weil Family Foundation.
“As the first in their families to receive a college education, my parents recognized the impact the college experience had on them,” shares Kit. “It became a natural fit for us to turn our focus to scholarships for first-generation students, as well as to the high schools and universities that prepare and provide support for them.” The foundation has awarded hundreds of scholarships to San Diego-area students since 2004 (a few of whom have landed at Redlands). This year marked the largest cohort of freshman scholars to date.
The Foundation board, along with its executive director, Macy Olivas (a previous scholarship recipient), is committed to personal relationships with their scholars. “It’s not enough to provide money for tuition,” says Kit. “Nor should we think that a student raised in an underserved community can step onto a college campus and have a fruitful experience. We are called upon to understand their backgrounds and the challenges they have likely faced. We strive to stay connected, to better understand their worldview, and to be partners in their journey.” The Foundation has provided years of generous support to U of R’s Summer Bridge Program, designed to offer a supportive community for first-generation students (see page 18).
Kit and John are proud of their alma mater, particularly its first-generation programming. “Recruiting and retaining first-generation students has become a huge focus across the United States, but Redlands was about 10 years ahead of the curve, making their program a mature and impactful one,” says Kit. “As my family has spent time with these scholars and their families, we have been exposed to a sobering and humbling education on the pervasiveness and perpetuation of inequality and injustice. I’m very grateful for the trust our scholars have placed in us. The discipline, courage, and optimism they exhibit inspires me.”
For information on how you can support first-generation students like the Weil Family Foundation has, please contact Ericka Smith, philanthropic advisor, at 909-748-8357 or firstname.lastname@example.org.