Millions in USC merit scholarships help local students attend the university

Town & Gown scholars gather for a luncheon at the start of the semester. (Photo/Deidre Davidson)


Millions in USC merit scholarships help local students attend the university

Trojans receive merit-based support from Town & Gown of USC each year

October 26, 2018 Eric Lindberg

The women of Town & Gown of USC got off to a modest start: a single endowed scholarship for a promising young USC student. But then that scholarship quickly turned into two, then a dozen.

Sixty years later, the university’s oldest women-run philanthropic support group now awards 150 merit-based scholarships to Trojans each year and boasts an endowment in excess of $44 million.

Paula Ciaramitaro town & gown
Paula Ciaramitaro, Town & Gown’s current president, leads the university’s longtime women’s philanthropic organization. (Photo/Amy Cantrell)

“We built these scholarships on $10 donations, $20 donations,” said Paula Ciaramitaro, a USC alumna and president of Town & Gown. “All of our women are nonstop volunteers. Everything goes back into the pot.”

For each $10,000 scholarship, Town & Gown carefully selects exceptional students who display leadership and community involvement. Many have achieved academic success while overcoming obstacles that threatened to derail their path to higher education.

“Our scholarship recipients are extraordinary people,” Ciaramitaro said. “For many of them, the Town & Gown scholarship made the difference in whether or not they could attend USC.”

The scholarship is open to undergraduates — including incoming freshmen — and graduate students who are permanent residents of Southern California. They must earn a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher and remain full-time students at USC to maintain the annual award.

Although Town & Gown weighs students’ academic achievement when awarding scholarships, it doesn’t necessarily seek people with the highest grades.

“The students that inspire, intrigue and move me are the ones that look at life with excitement and gratitude,” Ciaramitaro said. “Most of our scholars are so grateful for where they are and so eager to give back. I feel they are the ones we will read about in 20 years who are doing amazing things in the world.”

USC merit scholarships: Town & Gown’s legacy of support

Town & Gown started in 1904 under a different name: the Women’s Club of the University of Southern California. The group was renamed a few decades later to reflect the partnership between the community (the “town”) and USC’s academics, researchers and professionals (the “gown”).

As it grew, Town & Gown funded the construction of the Town and Gown building, as well as a women’s residence hall that is now part of New Residential College, an update of the President’s Room in Widney Alumni House, and beautification of the walkways, gardens and patios around the Town and Gown building.

Town & Gown also leads community service programs and sponsors events like the USC Women’s Conference and Alumni Awards Gala. But contributions from members and donations during an annual benefit dinner and other events primarily support its signature initiative — student scholarships.

“The Trojan Family will always support the next generation of Trojans and the next after that in the same way that it always has,” Ciaramitaro said. “That’s what Trojans do, and that’s the beauty of this institution.”

Ciaramitaro understands the value of education. Her parents helped cover her tuition at USC, allowing her to earn a degree in finance from the USC Marshall School of Business in 1985. Her sister is also an alumna, as are her two daughters. She attributes her successful career to the foundation of knowledge she gained at USC, inspiring her to give back by volunteering with Town & Gown.

“My parents worked so hard to put my sister and I through school, and I always knew I would give back when I was able to,” she said. “This spirit of USC and giving back is a natural thank you for what the university has given all of us.”

Town & Gown of USC accepts applications through Dec. 1 each year. Find out more by visiting its scholarships website. To learn about other USC scholarships, visit the USC Admissions scholarships page.