Scholarship gift solidifies grandparents’ legacy

Influenced by her late grandparents, Ida and Cesare Sclarandis, in their goal to achieve the American dream, Aubrey Sclarandis (B.S.W. ’08; M.S.W. ’10) set out on her own mission: to practice social work in a developing country. For members of the Sclarandis family, life is all about taking chances.

In 2007, Sclarandis, then a junior studying in the School of Social Work at Virginia Commonwealth University, took a chance that would forever alter her life and those of future students. She joined students and faculty from the school on an annual trip to the Dominican Republic. There, the group partners for 10 weeks with the Community Service Alliance, a nongovernmental organization, to work to improve the lives of Dominican families.

During her travels to the Dominican Republic, Sclarandis was blessed by meet­ing “Ms. Sofia,” who founded a school for Haitian-Dominican children whose fami­lies migrated to the Dominican Republic in search of work. The children do not have birth certificates and therefore can’t attend public school, she said.

“Ms. Sofia just reminded me of my grandmother so much with the way she interacted with people and the way she carried herself,” Sclarandis said. “As Americans, we often take so many things for granted.”

Sclarandis made a conscious effort to be more aware of the cultural and ethical dilemmas she encounters. She wanted to help others make the change, too.

Sclarandis returned to the U.S. with a plan for using the inheritance she had received from her grandparents. That plan came to fruition when Sclarandis and her parents gave $10,000 to the School of Social Work in December 2007 to create the Cesare and Ida Sclarandis Endowed Scholarship. That was matched dollar for dollar by Northrop Grumman Corp., her father’s employer, for a total gift of $20,000.

The scholarship defrays the travel expenses for a student in the foundation field-placement course. The winner must spend 10 weeks in the Dominican Republic.

This year’s recipient, Alma Ortman, traveled to the Dominican Republic to complete her first-year Master of Social Work field practicum. Ortman conducted a community-needs assessment in the rural area of Las Palmillas.

“I can say without a doubt that this opportunity is something every student would benefit from on both a personal and professional level,” Ortman said.

Randi Buerlein (M.S.W. ’75), assistant director of the field instruction office, directs the trip. She believes the Sclarandis Scholarship provides a unique way for students to learn about the global dimension of social work and to develop practical skills.

“Students gain a deeper understanding of human problems in the context of the social and cultural environment and develop culturally competent practice skills to meet the challenges of an increasingly global profession,” Buerlein said.

The growth of the scholarship rests in the hands of the students as Sclarandis hopes they will “rally together to create additional fundraising events to support the work of the faculty and students involved with the Dominican Republic.”

– Contributed by Jessica M. Lee

To make a gift to the School of Social Work, contact Myra Isaacs, director of develop­ment, at (804) 828-7166 or