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MCLA Alumni Create Bence Scholarships for Student Interns
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
03:03PM / Monday, October 30, 2023
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Adjunct instructor Donald Pecor, left, and professor emeritus Bob Bence at the history and political science gathering during homecoming weekend at MCLA. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Homecoming weekend at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts marked the start of a scholarship fund that will aid students doing internships to further advance their studies and career opportunities. 
Named the Robert Bence Scholarship Fund in honor of the political science professor emeritus, the fund was announced at a small gathering of history and political science alumni and Bence on Oct. 21. 
"Bob is sort of fundamental in shaping that department and, of course, also founding the political science department," said Ely Janis, chair of the History and Political Science Department.
College officials credited Daniel Auth, class of 1987, as developing a small travel scholarship with Bence for student interns which they now wished to make more permanent endowed fund. 
"We want to thank Dan Auth, who spent a significant amount of his time volunteering, calling alumni, emailing alumni, hounding us in the office to make sure we were there to support it," said Robert Ziomek, the college's vice president of institutional advancement. "It wasn't a hard thing for me to do my job because it had a personal connection to be in doing something in Bob's name. I'm  really excited that we're able to say that this will be a scholarship in your name in perpetuity.'
Auth said the idea came to him during a "brush with mortality" a decade when he was thinking about who in his life had benefited him. He'd been in touch with Bence off and on over the years and gave his some money told him "do what you think is right."
Bence and Janis had put it toward student travel opportunities to the Model United Nations. Auth continued to donate, as did Bence and others, and the fund slowly gained momentum. 
"Bob has been fundraising on his own and I felt bad that he had to do that on his own, especially when he's a modest guy," said Auth. "I know he doesn't really enjoy it that much."
About 18 months ago, they all met and began serious fundraising to create the endowed scholarship. 
"It's going to go toward gifts for deserving students who need a little extra help with off-campus internships and programs," Auth said. "I'm sure all you know travel, travel expenses and relocation expenses are not included in the school's financial aid. It's one of those hidden hidden costs that actually can really add up. ...
"And for a student that's probably receiving aid to begin with, it can really be cost prohibitive to go out and take part in these off-campus internships."
Internships can create tracks and networks for career advancement and can be especially important for history and political science students at a time when math, engineering and science are the hot fields.
"We need to be doing everything we can to support liberal arts students and support students that are still continuing to study humanities and social sciences, when it's tougher to find jobs and those jobs that pay well," he said. 
Ziomek said it was an internship with the college's development office that had changed his trajectory from being a history teacher. Except it hadn't initially been an internship; he'd volunteered and the director liked his work. He had a meeting with his professor, Bence, and the director and "next thing I know I have a full credit internship" in history.
"I don't know how you worked that out, but it worked out," he said to Bence. "It allowed me to go on to a career in this advancement field."
Bence said he was very touched hearing from everyone, and was trying to be humble. In developing the political science program, he said internships were made a requirement and, while not in history, those students also want those opportunities. And it takes funds to make that happen. 
"I just echo what Dan said, it's really important for us to get students out into the world to test careers for example, make contacts, see what life is like not just in Massachusetts," he said, but in other areas whether Washington, D.C., or Russia. "And as Bob says, test careers that aren't even seemingly directly related to history, although we like to think that those skills that one develops in the liberal arts are transferable to all kinds of things."
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