Helping Students Help the World

12 April 2019

Tom Rock and Melissa Raphan 

Although Tom Rock ’84 and his wife, Melissa Raphan, consistently supported Carleton’s Alumni Annual Fund, they had never considered becoming major donors—largely due to a philosopher Tom had first encountered at Carleton, Peter Singer. His argument that wealthy people in rich nations such as the United States have a moral obligation to help those most in need resonated with Tom and Melissa, so for years, helping “the poorest of the poor” became the focus of their philanthropy.

Their daughter, however, gave them a different view. She called her parents one day irritated that the job fairs at her college exclusively comprised big, powerful companies. “Her whole point was, ‘why does my school support all these employers who aren’t helping people or making the world a better place,’” Rock says. “If she or someone else there wanted to explore careers with for the ACLU or another nonprofit and help people, why wouldn’t the school give students those networking opportunities, too?”

That got Tom and Melissa thinking. They had long agreed with Carleton’s commitment to meet 100 percent of financial need for all admitted students and to enroll the best students regardless of need—and this seemed to be an extension of those beliefs. “Students on financial aid often can’t afford to take a job that doesn’t pay anything over the summer,” he says. “So we thought maybe we should endow an internship for students to be able to afford working with nonprofits to get interested in social justice.”

Working with the director of the Career Center to identify how they could help the greatest number of students, Tom and Melissa decided to support student internships in fields including public health, education, climate change, and public policy. They named their fund the Rob White ’85 Endowed Internship Fund in honor of Tom’s friend from Carleton.

“He was one of those people who didn’t concern himself with what others thought—he simply did the right thing,” Rock says. The principal at Community of Peace Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota, White died of kidney cancer in 2013, leaving a legacy of helping kids learn peace and perseverance. His K-12 charter school, in an area of St. Paul noted for high home foreclosure and crime rates, emphasized nonviolence and consistently reported 90 to 100 percent of graduates accepted into postsecondary institutions each year.

Shortly before he died, White told the Carleton College Voice, “Growing up is hard, and most of our students are additionally affected by poverty and hunger. We strive to provide them with an environment in which they feel safe and can succeed.”

White is exactly the kind of person Tom and Melissa would love to see benefit from their internship fund, Rock says. They hope to inspire a passion for social justice and help students launch themselves into meaningful lives and careers. Which is in line with Peter Singer’s philosophy after all, Rock adds.

“We’re supporting education that will help students go on to help the world,” he says.

Posted In