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Kicking off the Trip Ticket: Global Perspectives Campaign!

Lessons on Global Citizenship, Thanks to the Stefanko Fund

For over 30 years, the Caltech Y has empowered students to spend their breaks giving back and broadening their perspectives. Both undergraduate and graduate students have trekked to Costa Rica to help newly born sea turtles escape predators, flown to Alabama and Georgia to learn about the history of the U.S. Civil Rights movement, and traveled to Peru to build a concrete staircase for residents living in hillside communities.

More students have enjoyed these opportunities thanks to Caltech alumnus Mike Stefanko (BS ʼ70) and his wife, Paula Stefanko. The couple has subsidized these excursions, known as Alternative Spring Break (ASB), for the past 12 years. The Frank and Elsie Stefanko Fund, named in honor of Mike Stefanko’s deceased parents, offsets a significant portion of the cost, including lodging, airfare, and most meals.

Frank & Elsie Stefanko

Every year, Stefanko has lunch with ASB participants, and each time, he is impressed with the impact a one-week trip has on students. “The international programs are especially immersive,” Stefanko says. “Caltech Y members meet with locals, learn about their culture, and sometimes live with them. Students help make their lives better, and in turn, they give Caltech students a different perspective on what it means to be happy and self-sufficient.”

As an undergraduate, Stefanko competed on the swim and water polo teams, served on the board of the Associated Students of the California Institute of Technology (ASCIT), and sang in the Blacker House choir. He connected with the Caltech Y years later as an alumnus. Mike, Paula, and the Caltech Y all share a commitment to social impact.

“The world needs science nerds, but it also needs science ambassadors,” Stefanko says. “It needs people who can bring science and scientific thinking into the community to make a difference. The Caltech Y is doing an important job in nurturing these ambassadors.”

Stefanko could also be considered a science ambassador. He put his Caltech education and quantitative skills to use as an instructor for college students and at-risk teenagers. Then, he switched professions and worked as an administrator at a legal nonprofit and a data analyst for the Orange County Probation Department. He considers founding and managing the O.C. District Attorney’s Office’s Research Unit one of his greatest career achievements. There, he created a data-informed culture that helped leaders more effectively allocate resources, respond to public critiques, and report to grant funders. These wide-ranging experiences sparked an interest in criminal justice. Although semi-retired, Stefanko remains committed to the issue and volunteers as a website administrator for the Association for Criminal Justice Research (California).

Mike with students who attended the Hawaii ASB trip

Building on the Stefankos’ generosity, the Caltech Y wants to make travel even more accessible to students. The Global Perspectives Fund is a new fundraising initiative that will ensure students of all backgrounds have access to these experiences. Funds will support ASB, the Washington D.C., Science Policy Trip, Global Policy Trip, and other programs. The Caltech Y is seeking gifts of all sizes from Caltech alumni, faculty, and staff as well as Pasadena community members to reach its $15,000 goal. 

“No student should be denied these transformative learning and serving experiences due to financial barriers,” says Caltech Y board Chair Cindy Bengston.

Thanks to the generosity of donors like Mike we are already $2,350 towards our goal!

The Caltech Y is a 501(c)(3), and all donations are tax deductible. Please reach out to Maya Rosental Saporito at or 626-396-6163 with any questions.


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