Little Italy Lodge Foundation: Scholarship Process, Transparency and Optics
This is the third year of my term as the President of the Little Italy Lodge Scholarship Foundation. We have put together a very strong 10 member At Large Committee (ALC) (90% of whom are Lodge members). The ALC’s main job is to handle all operational aspects of the Scholarship process from revising and approving the application process to reviewing and approving the year’s essay, reviewing and approving the year’s applications and finally based on the number of available scholarships and scores, recommending the top scholarship applicants to the Board for approval of the year’s scholarship awards. I, as Foundation President, also sit as a non-voting member of the 13 member Foundation Board (90% are Lodge members) now chaired by the well known and respected Italian American, Vince Piscopo. The Board has the ultimate responsibility for all the Foundation’s financial and policy decisions and ultimately approves the number and amounts of the scholarships and has final approval over who receives the Scholarship awards.
Conflict of Interest:
The Board, under the Leadership of then Chair, Gio Alberotanza, implemented a policy that each member of the ALC and the Board must complete and submit to the Chair, an annual Conflict of Interest statement that identifies any personal, actual or potential conflicts of interest e.g., working for a company that supplies food to our Taste of Italy Event or to identifying that you would be a sponsor of a scholarship applicant. The signed Conflict statements are held by the board and overseen by the Chair. For example, any member of the Board or the ALC that had identified as a potential scholarship sponsor, was immediately required to have NO role whatsoever in the evaluation of any scholarship applicant. I’d like to remind our Lodge Members that every ALC and Board member abides by the highest principles of ethics and recuses themselves when there is any potential conflict of interest.
The Foundation promotes its Scholarship Application that was approved by the Board in December of the year before the scholarships are due. All applications are available at our littleitalyfoundation.org web site and on the Lodge web site and pre-COVID, in hard copy at the entrance of the Lodge. The draft application is reviewed and edited annually by the ALC including adding a new essay topic. Once the ALC has finalized the complete scholarship application at our December meeting, the application is then forwarded to the Board where the final version is approved in December. The completed Application must be received either electronically or by US Mail by May 1st of each year. In each of the past 3 years, our Foundation oversaw 11 scholarship applications per year and awarded 4 scholarships per year.
Applications are sent to the Designated Recipient (DR), Sue Corasaniti (also a member of the Board). Sue has 30 days to confirm that the application is valid and meets all criteria (e.g., is received on time, is complete, is sponsored by an eligible member of the Lodge and meets the program’s definition of family). Once applications are deemed valid by Sue, she then de-identifies each application (i.e. scrubs/blacks out name of the applicant, name of the sponsor and any identifying information that would in any way be a clue to the applicant’s identity). In short, the final de-identified applications have NO personal information that would give the evaluation committee any clue as to his/her family. Sue then sends the applications to Tony Montcalmo, Chair of the Scholarship Application Sub-Committee. (Tony Verdecchia completed this role and responsibility in 2018 and 2019). Tony Montcalmo forms an evaluation committee of 5 other ALC members with NO Conflict of interest to review all applications after Memorial Day and are asked to complete their task of assessment and recommending awards by June 15. Tony and his evaluation committee review THREE components of the application: The Effective Family Contribution (EFC), transcripts and Grade Point Average (GPA), and finally the essay. The evaluation criteria is reviewed and approved annually by the Board. In fact, Tony and his Team are in the process of revising scoring criteria on the EFC, GPA, and the Essay this year in advance of the 2021 awards. Once the Scholarship Sub-Committee reaches consensus on scoring and the rank order of each applicant, Tony requests the identifying information of each applicant and sponsor assigned numbers from the DR. Once assigning the coded number of each applicant, Tony sends the final evaluation result to the ALC President using the as-yet unidentified applicants’ ID codes. The ALC President then requests the identifying information of each applicant and sponsor from the DR, Sue Corasaniti. Once the identifying information and the rank order are reconnected, Tony requests that The ALC President convene an ALC meeting to review the results and recommendations. The recommended scholarship recipient and non-recipient names are then sent to the Board, along with supporting data, for their review at a Board meeting in late June. Tony Montcalmo then prepares award recipient and non-recipient letters for the President’s signature. Letters are sent out to all applicants by mid-July and the scholarship checks to the respective colleges are mailed by the Board Treasurer in August.
As your Foundation President, I am very aware of the potential conflicts of interest in my role and the need to assure our Lodge that the awards process, described above, is absolutely an independent process, free from any Board or ALC influence. Martina and I have been proud Lodge members for over 20 years, brought into the Lodge by the wonderful Mike Girolamo. We have worked the Festivals and other Lodge events and served Friday night meals…so I consider myself an active Lodge member. I was asked by Tony Verdecchia in early 2017 to consider volunteering to serve as the Foundation’s 1st President once the legal separation from the Lodge was complete. My only reservation was that I had two granddaughters that would likely be applying for Lodge Scholarships and I did not want my office to be disqualifying. I was assured that I would be able to recuse myself from the evaluation process and remain President while my family could be considered for scholarships. So I agreed to serve as the 1st Foundation President in 2017. Our very 1st granddaughter, Gabbi McLean, applied for and was awarded a $2,000 scholarship in 2018 to attend UMBC. I was totally separate from and blind to the process and was delighted with the news of her success. Gabbi, who was also awarded Baltimore County Young Woman of the Year in 2018, promptly joined the Little Italy Lodge and is still a member today. Gabbi applied in 2019 for another scholarship from the Lodge and last year she was unsuccessful. I was again, totally separate from and blind to the process. Finally in 2020, BOTH granddaughters, Gabbi and Maddi, applied for a Lodge Scholarship. Out of 11 applicants, though both ranked well, Maddi McLean won a $4,000 scholarship to attend The University of South Carolina. Gabbi failed to receive an award to UMBC. You win some and you lose some. I am very proud of Gabbi and Maddi but had no sway or influence on either the success or failure of their applications. Mr. John Rusinko, who sits on the Foundation Board, completed his Conflict of Interest Forms and when the time came for the Board to vote on this year’s awards, John recused himself. His granddaughter received an $8,000 award to attend college in Chicago. Neither John Rusinko nor I had any role in deciding the winners of scholarships these past three years. Congratulations to John for sponsoring the highest scoring awardee. His position on the Board of the Foundation or my position on the ALC should not disqualify our family members from applying for Lodge scholarships, as long as all Board and ALC members abide strictly to our process and declare any conflicts of interest at the outset of the process and do so on an annual basis. If you have any questions about the Scholarship process, feel free to reach out to me at Paul.firstname.lastname@example.org or to my cell at 410-591-3021. Tony Montcalmo who chairs the Scholarship Selection Committee, can be reached at email@example.com or on his cell at 410—428-7939. Thank you for reviewing this rather lengthy, detailed description of our objective and fair Scholarship Evaluation Process. Avanti…Forward.
Paul R. Rao PhD
President, Little Italy Lodge Scholarship Foundation