Cornell graduation 2023: (L to R) Enrique Vila-Biaggi '94, MEng '95, P '20, '23, '27; Paola Diaz ’23; Eleni Gianulis ’23; and Enrique’s daughter Veronica Vila ’23, MEng ‘24

Cornell Club of Puerto Rico rocks Giving Day scholarship challenge

Back in 1987, the Cornell Club of Puerto Rico (CCPR) established a scholarship to support local students to attend Cornell. For many years it remained a relatively small scholarship, until 2006, when Trustee Emeritus Miguel Ferrer ’59, MBA ’61 pledged to match up to $500,000 raised for the fund. Since then, the CCPR scholarship fund has grown into the second largest Cornell Club scholarship, behind the Cornell Club of Oregon fund. Valued at over $1 million, it provides nearly $40,000 in financial aid to Puerto Rican students every year.

In recent years, however, alumni giving to the scholarship fund began to slow down. So, in 2024, a core group of CCPR volunteers decided to see if Giving Day could help them grow their pool of donors and gifts.

Longtime friends gather at a Cornell Club of Puerto Rico Event: (L to R) Enrique Vila-Biaggi ’94, MEng ’95; Jose Fernando Vazquez ’98; Ricardo Rivera ’93, MEng ’94; Alberto Lazaro ’95; Guillermo Marxuach ’93
Longtime friends gather at a Cornell Club of Puerto Rico Event: (L to R) Enrique Vila-Biaggi ’94, MEng ’95; Jose Fernando Vazquez ’98; Ricardo Rivera ’93, MEng ’94; Alberto Lazaro ’95; Guillermo Marxuach ’93

Giving Day results from the prior three years had averaged around $350—with totals of $300 in 2023, $750 in 2022, and $200 in 2021. With this benchmark in mind, the club got to work. The core team was comprised of a group of five friends from Puerto Rico, all members of the Cornell Club of Puerto Rico’s Board: Enrique Vila-Biaggi ’94, MEng ’95, Carlos Falcon ’95, Manuel Avila ’95, Carlos Davila ’97, and Roberto Monserrate ’94.

The friendships we built at Cornell, they’re lifelong. They’ve become my family.
—Enrique Vila-Biaggi ’94, MEng ’95

Enrique led the challenge by making a matching gift of $10,000—a big jump from recent Giving Day totals. He hoped that the number would catch potential donors’ attention and inspire them to get on board. The match was structured to double the impact for students from Puerto Rico: once $10,000 in gifts was received, Enrique’s $10,000 match unlocked.

Enrique enjoys snowboarding in his Cornell gear
Enrique enjoys snowboarding in his Cornell gear

Enrique is no stranger to working with others on behalf of Cornell. He has been a member of the Board of Trustees for the past five years, and he currently chairs the board’s Committee on Alumni Affairs. He’s been an active member of the Cornell Club of Puerto Rico since 2000, and he’s also served on Cornell University Council.

In the days leading up to Giving Day, he and his friends sent emails to the approximately 400 alumni currently living in Puerto Rico, letting them know about Enrique’s match. They followed up with text messages on the afternoon of Giving Day, and then with evening phone calls to friends and acquaintances who had not yet contributed to the scholarship drive.

This peer-to-peer outreach was stunningly successful. The CCPR raised over $42,000 for the scholarship from 33 donors, who made gifts ranging from $50 to $10,000. The CCPR scholarship supports between 8–10 Puerto Rican students with financial need each year, as determined by Cornell’s financial aid office, which allocates the funds.

Enrique was surprised at how easy it was to bump up their results. “It was a real grassroots effort,” he says. “We’re a small island, and so that really helps, too.”

Friends become Big Red family

Enrique and friends return to campus in 1999: (L to R) Enrique Vila-Biaggi ’94, MEng ’95; Hugo Olivera ’92, MBA ’94; Guillermo Marxuach ’93; Jose Fernando Vazquez ’98; Ricardo Rivera ’93, MEng ’94; Alberto Lazaro ’95
Enrique and friends return to campus in 1999: (L to R) Enrique Vila-Biaggi ’94, MEng ’95; Hugo Olivera ’92, MBA ’94; Guillermo Marxuach ’93; Jose Fernando Vazquez ’98; Ricardo Rivera ’93, MEng ’94; Alberto Lazaro ’95

Enrique was the first person in his immediate family to attend college outside of Puerto Rico. He enrolled in the College of Engineering and thoroughly immersed himself in the Cornell experience. There were nearly one hundred Puerto Rican students on campus at that time, and they were like family to Enrique.

“The friendships we built at Cornell, they’re lifelong,” he observes. “We see each other almost every week, and we’ve served as best men at one another’s weddings and are godparents to our kids.”

Enrique’s giving journey began in his junior year. A childhood friend and engineering classmate, Teresa ‘Tillie’ Lazaro (posthumous ’23), was tragically killed in a car accident in May 1993.

Enrique with his dear friend Teresa ‘Tillie’ Lazaro during their first year at Cornell
Enrique with his dear friend Teresa ‘Tillie’ Lazaro during their first year at Cornell

Their families were close, and after Tillie’s passing, the two families joined together to raise funds to establish a scholarship in her honor. Enrique’s father spearheaded the scholarship drive. Since 1994, the Teresa Lazaro Master of Engineering Fellowship has supported one student from Puerto Rico every year.

“We raised $100,000 in no time—all from local people in Puerto Rico,” Enrique says. “Seeing how people came together to support Tillie’s legacy at Cornell was such an incredible experience. This whole thing really united us.”

Since graduation, Enrique has fully embraced the Big Red spirit. He has served as chair of Puerto Rico’s Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassadors Network for the past 24 years. During this time, he has helped put Cornell on the map for Puerto Rican students, serving as a point of contact for prospective students.

The Vila family (L to R) Sofia Vila ’20; Rosalyn Gerardino; Patricia Vila ’27; Veronica Vila ’23, MEng ’24; Enrique Vila-Biaggi ’94, MEng ’95
The Vila family (L to R) Sofia Vila ’20; Rosalyn Gerardino; Patricia Vila ’27; Veronica Vila ’23, MEng ’24; Enrique Vila-Biaggi ’94, MEng ’95

 

Enrique is proud of the fact that all three of his daughters are Cornellians, too: Sofia Vila ’20; Veronica Vila ’23, MEng ’24; and Patricia Vila ’27 (currently a first-year student in the Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration).

“I’m very excited about the fact that Cornell allows three very different people (his daughters) to go there and get a great education—and each study completely different things,” Enrique observes.

He’s incredibly proud of his service to the university, as well. Since his appointment as a trustee in 2019, he’s never missed a board meeting. “I’m a good soldier,” he says. “Whenever Cornell needs me, I’ll be there.”

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