“Why I Give”

This August, the University of Rochester’s Black Alumni Network presents the “Why I Give” series in celebration of Black Philanthropy Month. This series will honor and showcase Black alumni philanthropists and the inspiring stories behind why they give. To learn more about supporting Black students and campus initiatives, or to make a gift, please visit our recently launched Black Alumni Initiatives crowdfunding page.

Nila Bragg ’88

Nila Bragg headshot

This week marks our fourth week of the Black Alumni Network’s “Why I Give” series in celebration of Black Philanthropy Month. We have the pleasure of introducing you to Nila Bragg ’88. 

Nila received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from the University of Rochester in 1988. During her time at the University, she was involved with the Association of Black Drama and the Arts, Black Student Union’s Social Action Committee, Grapevine Minority Newsletter, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Student Association Appropriations Committee, and the Cinema Group. She went on to receive her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from The City College of New York’s School of Nursing in 1992, and her Master of Science in Nursing and Pediatric Nurse Practitioner degrees from the Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing in 1998. Nila currently resides in Bronx, NY. She is employed as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with the New York University School of Medicine, and currently works as a Medical Consultant at the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) in the Bronx. Outside of her professional life, Nila serves on the NYC George Eastman Circle Leadership Council and Equity and Access Subcommittee, the Real Reader program with the Gwen M. Greene Center, the Women Network’s Philanthropy Committee, and as the Black Alumni Network’s Philanthropy Committee Co-Chair, all through the University of Rochester.

Q: Why do you give to the University of Rochester?

A: I have firsthand knowledge of the importance of giving back to the University of Rochester. I was a scholarship recipient while obtaining a degree from the University. Without that scholarship, it would have been a challenge for my family to allow me to study at the U of R. Now, as a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, I sit proudly at pediatric conferences where, at almost every conference, a speaker says, ‘According to research done at the University of Rochester…’.

Q: What made you decide to give your first gift?

A: Several years back, a member of the Advancement Team met with me at my place of employment for breakfast on Valentine’s Day. He introduced me to the newly formed George Eastman Circle (GEC), asked me if I would like to be a Charter Member, and brought me a gift of Godiva Chocolates. He explained the effect that the GEC would have not only on the University’s ability to provide a quality education to every student, but on the quality of life for everyone who lives and works at the University. After his presentation, I was convinced that I wanted to become a member of the GEC, and the Godiva Chocolates sealed the deal!

Q: How did you choose the fund/program/unit you most frequently support?

A: Although I did not receive my Bachelor of Science degree from the U of R School of Nursing, nursing is so much a part of who I am as a person. Also, nurses are needed at every level of the health care system, from the frontline to administration. It is our duty as nurses to keep nursing at the forefront of health care.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish through your philanthropy? 

A: I want everyone who presently studies and/or works at the University to see that the alumni care about what each of them is experiencing at our beloved alma mater. The students should enjoy studying, learning, and achieving their life’s goals. The staff should enjoy their work while developing their skills. I want to be an example of how giving back can help someone else move forward.

Q: If you were talking to someone else about giving to UR, what would you tell them?

A: The University has an abundance of programs and funds. We all have a passion. Find yours within the University’s many initiatives and give to your passion.

Q: What does the Black Alumni Network mean to you?

A: I am a member of another family that cares about the growth and development of future generations. Together we can create an atmosphere of support and understanding for the current student body.

Dr. Shaun C. Nelms ’04W (MS), ’13W (EdD)

Dr. Shaun Nelms headshot

As we enter our third week of the Black Alumni Network’s “Why I Give” series in celebration of Black Philanthropy Month, we are excited to introduce you to Dr. Shaun C. Nelms ’04W (MS), ’13W (EdD).

Dr. Nelms received his Bachelor of Science degree in Secondary Education, with a Social Studies concentration, from SUNY Fredonia in 1999. He came to the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education and Human Development and earned his Master of Science degree in Educational Leadership and Administration in 2004, then completed his Doctor of Education degree in 2013. Dr. Nelms resides in Rochester, NY and currently serves as the Superintendent of the Educational Partnership Organization for the Rochester City School District, as well as a Clinical Professor and the William & Sheila Konar Director of the Center for Urban Education Success at the University of Rochester. Dr. Nelms also serves on the Board of Directors for the Center For Youth, Rochester Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative, Causewave Community Partners, Connected Communities, Greece Chamber of Commerce, and co-chairs the Greater Rochester Health Foundation Commission on Behavioral Health.

Q: Why do you give to the University

A: To create pathways and opportunities for students pursuing a career in education.

Q: What made you decide to give your first gift?

A: I wanted to give a place that gave so much to me as a learner.

Q: How did you choose the fund/program/unit you most frequently support?

A: I contribute to two Warner School of Education and Human Development initiatives. The Soaring Eagle Fund directly supports students at East High School. The University’s commitment to East has solidified our dedication to the community and its children. The Center For Urban Education Success (CUES), provides funding to research school transformation in complex school settings.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish through your philanthropy?

A: I hope future generations will transform how children are educated and supported in complex school environments, especially in urban settings.

Q: If you were talking to someone else about giving to UR, what would you tell them?

A: Fund the current initiatives that fit your passions or create new opportunities for future donors.

Q: What does the Black Alumni Network mean to you?

A: We have a village that will honor our past contributions at the University as we create new opportunities for future Yellowjackets.

Dr. Gina Cuyler ’92M (MD), ’95M (Res)

Gina Cuyler Headshot

This week we continue the Black Alumni Network’s “Why I Give” series in celebration of Black Philanthropy Month and are thrilled to introduce you to Dr. Gina Cuyler ’92M (MD), ’95M (Res).

Dr. Cuyler received her Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry in 1988 from New York University. She came to the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry and earned her Doctor of Medicine degree in 1992, then completed her Medical Residency in 1994. Dr. Cuyler resides in Rochester, NY and currently serves as the Vice President of Health Equity and Community Investments at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield and Univera Healthcare. In addition to serving as a mentor through the nonprofit agency, Black Physicians Network of Greater Rochester which she co-founded in 2015, Dr. Cuyler is the co-chair of the University’s Black Alumni Network and has volunteer roles with the University’s Diversity Advisory Council, SMD’s Women in Medicine group, and Rochester’s Network Leadership Council.

Q: Why do you give to the University of Rochester?

A: I know that financial barriers keep some students from fulfilling their dreams and completing their academic goals. These barriers prevent some students from being able to use their gifts and talents fully. Giving allows me to support others so that they can one day in turn use their gifts and abilities to serve humanity and make the world a better place for all.

Q: What made you decide to give your first gift?

A: I know that others helped me and I wanted to help others in need of assistance to realize their educational dreams.

Q: How did you choose the fund/program/unit you most frequently support?

A: I choose the funds (Food Pantry, Student Emergency Fund, and Office of Equity and Inclusion Leadership Development Fund) that resonated with the barriers that I had experienced as a student. My personal experiences have helped shape how I give.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish through your philanthropy? 

A: I hope to remove barriers that would otherwise keep bright minds from getting the education they desire and need in order to refine and nurture their gifts and talents.

Q: If you were talking to someone else about giving to UR, what would you tell them?

A: It is a blessing to others and yourself when you share what you have in order to make a better tomorrow for others. One of the greatest gifts I have received is seeing aspiring doctors, nurses, teachers, scientists, etc. overcome the financial barriers they face and fulfill their dreams.

Q: What does the Black Alumni Network mean to you?

A: It means bringing the people of the African Diaspora together for the benefit of not only those who come after us, but for the benefit of humanity. One family working together for a better tomorrow.

Mario Simpson ’99

Mario Simpson headshotWe are pleased to introduce you to Mario Simpson ’99. Mario received his Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering in 1999, concentrating in VLSI Computer Chip Design. He went on to earn his Master of Science degree in Engineering Management from The George Washington University in 2009, and an Executive Master of Business Administration degree from the Robert H. Smith School of Business, at the University of Maryland in 2014. As a student at the University of Rochester, Mario was a member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and was a sprinter on the Men’s Indoor & Outdoor Track Teams. Mario currently serves as a Systems Engineer at Square Peg Technologies, performing project management and business analysis for various clients within the Washington, D.C. area.

Q: Why do you give to the University of Rochester?

A: I am originally from Rochester, so I give to 1) support minorities in need, like I was when I attended and 2) hopefully aid the University in strengthening the community around it.

Q: What made you decide to give your first gift?

A: My 10-year reunion was happening. I joined the reunion committee and decided to donate to the School of Engineering, before later joining the George Eastman Circle [the University’s leadership annual giving society].

Q: How did you choose the fund/program/unit you most frequently support?

A: I wanted my money to support the things that I was involved in when I was in school, so I split my funds between the Men’s Track team and diversity efforts within the Hajim School of Engineering & Applied Sciences.