Creating Couzelis Scholars

By Doug Scanlon | Winter 2019

Timing has always played an integral role in the lives of Paul ’65, G’72, PhD, and Nancy ’68 Couzelis.

As undergraduates at Springfield College, the couple never crossed paths even though their time on campus overlapped by a year. While Nancy spent her four years in Abbey Hall or International Hall, Paul commuted from his Springfield home in order to afford the tuition.

After he graduated, timing worked in their favor when Paul first met Nancy through a mutual friend while he was working at the New Britain (Conn.) YMCA. Several years later, Paul moved to the Boston area to begin work at the YMCA of Cambridge, Mass. After graduation, Nancy also moved to the Boston area and began teaching in Beverly, Mass. In due time, they began dating.

At the YMCA of Cambridge, Paul participated in the development of a wellness program for post-cardiac patients, one of the first places in the country to begin such an initiative. After being asked to speak to a panel of physicians about the work he was doing, Paul decided that he needed to learn more about exercise physiology and ways to improve adult fitness.

When Paul and Nancy married, the timing seemed right to move back to Springfield College so Paul could begin a master’s program in physical education, which encompassed exercise physiology. It was then that Nancy began teaching in Somers, Conn., as a sixth-grade instructor.

After graduation, and at the urging of Paul’s mentor Wayne Sinning, former Springfield College associate professor of physical education and an expert in physiology, Paul and Nancy moved to Kent, Ohio, so Paul could complete a doctoral program at Kent State University.

“When I arrived at Kent State, I knew more about biochemistry and exercise physiology than almost every student in the program because of the strength of my Springfield College education,” Paul said.

After graduating from Kent State, Paul began working at a New York City YMCA, developing a cardiovascular health institute that involved working with the YMCA and businesses. Once Y officials decided to go in a different direction, the timing felt right for Paul to leverage his knowledge and connection with corporate clients to start his own business, with the support of the Y, promoting corporate fitness and wellness.

“It was all about helping people adopt healthy behaviors. And, it was a win for everybody: The corporations had employees who were more productive and alert, the employees were healthier and happier, and we got to build a business around corporate fitness at a time when such programs were brand new,” Paul said.

He and his business partner grew what became MediFit Corporate Services, Inc., into a national company with 250 corporate and wellness centers. They hosted Springfield College interns and hired many alumni throughout the years. Paul occasionally visited the College and spoke to classes as a guest lecturer.The timing was right: A $1 million gift for Springfield College

It was a nerve-racking decision for Paul to create MediFit, but he credits Springfield College with giving him the confidence that it could succeed. Additionally, Nancy was unwavering in her support and used her skills to help Paul get the company on its feet. 

As MediFit was taking off, Nancy returned to the classroom and soon became a leader in her profession, as well. As an elementary teacher, she was very involved in school committees and boards and incorporating technology into the classroom. Working in one of the lower performing schools in Norwalk, Conn., Nancy served on a committee that researched ways to improve scores.

“We came up with a program called ‘The Responsive Classroom’ that was such an ignition to our school. It created a social and academic classroom environment, focusing on a positive community, effective management, and developmental awareness,” Nancy said.

Within a few years her school became the second highest performing school in the city.

“There was such a close symbiosis between Springfield College and my classroom, where I focused on the whole student, not just the process of teaching reading, writing, and math, but, to care for the whole individual,” Nancy said.

“Every recipient of this scholarship is a multiplier. A Springfield education is a totally unique one, as it prepares people for service to others. They go out and they distribute in the world skills and abilities that improve upon people’s lives. That is something that doesn’t happen in the same way with graduates of other schools.” 

Paul Couzelis

After selling MediFit, Paul and Nancy began to think about how and where they would make a charitable gift. As Nancy’s 50th reunion approached, the timing was right, once again, as they found themselves in the fortunate position to give back to the institution that embodies the Humanics philosophy about which they both care deeply. 

“The single most important thing we have in common is Springfield College. It had such an impact on our lives. It was the obvious choice,” Paul said.

Over lunch with President Mary-Beth A. Cooper, the couple declared, “We don’t want to just support education. We want to support a Springfield College education.”

While discussing the greatest needs at the College, Nancy thought about her career as an elementary school teacher and was reminded of her first year when she received both a scholarship from the College and a federal loan for aspiring teachers. 

“Now the time has come for me to give back so that others can have that unique Springfield College education,” she said.

With that in mind, Paul and Nancy decided to establish a $1 million endowed fund that will provide 12 scholarships per year to “Couzelis Scholars” in exercise science or physical education: Three to first-year students, three to sophomores, three to juniors, and three to seniors. Additional funds from the endowment will be used for assisting a senior “over the finish line,” or to be used for off-campus internships for an experience with a YMCA or in worksite health.

Paul and Nancy see their generosity as impacting the scholarship recipients, but, more importantly, as impacting the thousands of lives those students will change as they go out into the world with a Springfield College education.

“We feel fortunate to be able to give back to the place that contributed so much to our success,” Paul said. “Every recipient of this scholarship is a multiplier. A Springfield education is a totally unique one, as it prepares people for service to others. They go out and they distribute in the world skills and abilities that improve upon people’s lives. That is something that doesn’t happen in the same way with graduates of other schools.” 

The first cohort of Couzelis Scholars will be admitted for the fall of 2019, and Paul and Nancy couldn’t be more excited to meet them. As Nancy stated, “You can get an education at any college. A Springfield College education is unique and different. There’s only one place you can get this education.”

Scholarships such as those highlighted below have never been more important in providing students access to our unique Humanics-based education. Students rely on the scholarship support of our donors to help close the tuition gap and make a Springfield College education possible. 

Established in 1986, the Jesse L. Parks Scholarship provides a full-tuition scholarship to high school seniors of color who live in Springfield, Mass. The scholarship is named after long-time Springfield College faculty member Jesse L. Parks, who taught at the College for 23 years. Jezavya Rivera ’18, sports biology with a double minor in chemistry and Spanish, learned of the scholarship through her guidance counselor, who is a Springfield College alumnus. “I was very fortunate. My guidance counselor hand delivered my applications to Springfield’s undergraduate admissions office. And, here I am five years later,” she said. Rivera currently works at the Campus Compact of Southern New England AmeriCorps VISTA, providing Springfield College students volunteer opportunities through the Center for Service and Leadership.

The Raymond & Dorcas Weiner Scholarship Fund was established by Meredith Weiner Mowen ’81 and her family, in honor of her parents Raymond ’57 and Dorcas MacGregory ’55 Weiner. Preference for the scholarship is given to undergraduate students interested in teacher preparation. “My parents were both educators who placed high value on education. They supported me so that I  could graduate with no debt. Education creates opportunity and Springfield College is near and dear to my parents and me, so it was a values-based decision,” she said.

The John Wilson Book Scholarship awards scholarship support to students from underrepresented populations. Named in memory of John Wilson, the former assistant dean of students and director of the Multicultural Affairs Center who passed away in 2015, the preference for the fund’s awardees is given to students who contribute to the Office of Inclusion and Community Engagement. 

The Anthony James Sacco Endowed Memorial Scholarship was created by Sandi ’67 and Ron Sacco in memory of their son, who died tragically in a car accident. Preference for the scholarship is given to students interested in math, computer science, or recreation. Sandi said that creating the scholarship “brought me a sense of peace knowing that our resources can make a difference. It was a blessing for me that I didn’t expect.”

To learn more about how you can create a scholarship that will change the life of a student, contact the Office of Development at (800) 622-6072.