How a long-connected group of alumni came together to start a scholarship for new Smith students
It all started with Fantasy Football – 16 members in the league, all of them alumni of the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, and all of them former members of the Delta Sigma Pi co-ed business fraternity.
One day, Daniel Friedman ’98 suggested to the group that they do something meaningful with a portion of their dues, donating to their alma mater. Maybe they could help a student in need, he suggested, create a scholarship and give back.
The response was resounding, Friedman said. Everybody wanted to contribute.
“The consensus, among everyone, was that they wanted to create a need-based scholarship opportunity,” recalled Jitin “Miki” Ahuja, ’97, MS ’02, MBA ’02. “We wanted to give kids an opportunity they wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Ahuja reached out to Maryland Smith’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations to find out what was possible. Meanwhile, the group, led by Ahuja, Friedman and Friedman’s older brother, Martin Friedman, ’91, began exploring beyond the 16 Fantasy Football players, reaching out to the entire membership of the Delta Sigma Pi fraternity. After all, it was the fraternity that had brought the group together, years ago, even before Fantasy Football.
If they could raise $50,000 between them, they could start a scholarship, making a difference that lasts.
“It snowballed. We had 50 brothers who wanted in,” Ahuja said, with total funds raised quickly exceeding that minimum threshold.
Together, they endowed the need-based Delta Sigma Pi Scholarship Fund.
Like Ahuja and the Friedmans, many of the alumni had thought for years about how to give back to College Park, where they grew, where their careers took root, where they made vitally important contacts. Some didn’t know how. Others didn’t have the minimum threshold to create a standing scholarship.
The Fantasy league and the fraternity brotherhood broke down those barriers.
Why they give
Martin Friedman said Maryland Smith for him was “a game-changer.” Moving from New Orleans to Maryland and onto a university campus changed everything for him. Five years later, he’d watch his younger brother, Daniel, retrace his journey, beginning his studies in College Park.
“It just changed a lot of aspects of my life. It put me on a path to where I am today,” Martin Friedman said. With a bachelor of science in finance, he became a stock analyst and eventually launched his own fund, FJ Capital Management, a McLean, Va.-based investment firm with assets under management of about $1 billion.
Ahuja also identifies with the notion of Maryland Smith as a “game-changer.”
The entrepreneur and founder of online marketing company SpaceJet Media, he arrived on campus as a needs-based student, and like the Friedman brothers, he financed his studies with a combination of grants and loans. He credits the fraternity and Maryland Smith for his foundational first job and subsequent business successes. “Maryland’s service-oriented approach to its students did wonders for me,” said Ahuja, who met his wife, an engineering major in Dorchester Hall.
What makes a difference
“You live life forward and you connect the dots backward,” Ahuja said, “and it all starts to make sense. Maryland made a difference for me.”
Maryland – and Delta Sigma Pi – made the difference for Daniel Friedman as well.
“Coming from New Orleans to the university was an adjustment. It was a really big campus, and I didn’t know anyone,” he said. His brother had graduated, and there he was on a campus of some 40,000 people.
Soon, he joined the co-ed business fraternity, as his big brother had. “Being part of DSP, it shrunk the university down to a manageable size, which allowed me to grow and to foster really solid relationships.”
Daniel Friedman lives in Arizona now, with his wife, Adena (a DSP alum from the University of Arizona), and their three sons, but he gets back to campus as often as he can. “It reminds me of the things that I did, the things that I took from Maryland, the things that I learned that helped me grow as a human being,” he said.
It’s an experience that he, his Fantasy League and his Delta Sigma Pi community are paying forward.
“Particularly in this time and the challenging environment that our world and our society is in with COVID-19, we felt that it was especially poignant to be doing this right now. At this point in time, I think more than ever, it’s important that we give back,” he said.