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INSPIRED TO PAY IT FORWARD

“I have seen firsthand the difference one donation can make, and you have inspired me to pay it forward.”

When she receives a thank-you letter like this one from Will Lenk, E15, Jeannie Diefenderfer, E84, knows that her plan is working. She created the Jeannie H. Diefenderfer Endowed Scholarship Fund in 2008 with a dual purpose: to enable engineering students with financial need to attend Tufts, and to inspire future generations of Tufts alumni to give. Lenk received her scholarship for both his junior and senior years.

Diefenderfer’s family immigrated to New York City from Seoul, South Korea, when she was 13. Financial aid allowed her to attend Tufts, which marked an important turning point in her life. “I had never been away from home before,” she says. “Growing up, unless I was at school, I was always at home with my family.” Diefenderfer majored in chemical engineering and went on to a 28-year career in telecommunications, eventually leading more than 10,000 employees as senior vice president of global engineering and planning for Verizon.

Lenk, who grew up in Portland, Maine, says Tufts has exposed him to many different cultures and viewpoints. “In high school, everyone spoke the same language and came from the same background,” he says. “Here, I’m always stretching myself to consider a broader range of opinions.” The academic opportunities are also expanding his horizons. As part of a team in Professor Sameer Sonkusale’s lab, Lenk is helping to develop an intelligent bandage that will monitor wounds for physical and chemical signs of poor healing.

Diefenderfer and Lenk share a deep sense of gratitude toward the donors who made it possible for them to attend Tufts. Diefenderfer hopes to transform that gratitude into future philanthropy.

“Giving is a value of the highest order,” she says.

Diefenderfer retired from Verizon in 2012 and founded courageNpurpose, a firm that advises boards and CEOs on strategic initiatives. Now a trustee and member of the Engineering Board of Advisors at Tufts, she considers philanthropy a part of who she is. “My four years at Tufts were probably the most wonderful period of my life,” she says. “I wanted to give back because I received so much from Tufts.”