A Box of Cash, a Secret Donor and a Big Lift for Some N.Y.C. Students

When he returned to instructing in-person this semester, Vinod Menon, a physics professor at City College of New York in Harlem, lastly seemed via a pile of workplace mail and discovered a cardboard field the dimensions of a toaster.

The field, heavy sufficient to warrant $90 in postage for precedence U.S. mail, was addressed to “Chairman, Physics Department” — his title.

Maybe it was a token of thanks from a former pupil, Dr. Menon thought, as he inspected the package deal, which was postmarked Nov. 10, 2020. It had been sitting for greater than 9 months, first within the campus mailroom and then within the physics workplace.

For Dr. Menon, 49, who specializes in nano- and microphotonics, an thrilling second normally is available in a campus laboratory with some breakthrough within the exploration of the best way mild interacts with matter on a quantum stage.

But the matter contained within the cardboard field gave him fairly a cost. It was full of $50 and $100 payments bundled in paper bands, totaling $180,000.

An enclosed letter to Dr. Menon defined that the money was a donation meant to assist needy physics and math college students at City College.

“It was a complete shock — I know a lot of academics and I’ve never heard of anything like this,” he mentioned. “I didn’t know if the college accepted cash, so I didn’t know if they’d keep it.”

The letter defined the donor’s motivations. “Assuming that you are bit curious as to why I am doing this, the reason is straightforward,” wrote the donor, who mentioned she or he “long ago” took benefit of the “excellent educational opportunity” of attending each Stuyvesant High School and incomes a bachelor’s and grasp’s levels in physics at City College, which helped result in “a long, productive, immensely rewarding” scientific profession.

The observe was unsigned, and the title on the return handle, Kyle Paisley, was not listed as a graduate within the school’s data.

City College has benefited from bigger donations. It has raised $17.2 million in funds because the starting of the fiscal yr in July.

But Dr. Menon mentioned the reward’s worth was much less in regards to the greenback quantity and extra about “a testament to what the physics department has been providing all these years.”

He famous that because the annual tuition at City College is $7,500, the donation would go a lot additional than at an costly personal establishment in offering scholarships.

Officials, each on the school and your complete CUNY system, couldn’t recall a related kind of donation. “Kyle Paisley” appeared to be a phony title, mentioned Chief Pat Morena, who heads the Department of Public Safety at City College, the founding faculty within the metropolis’s 25-college public college system, the most important public city college system within the nation.

“Who gets $180,000 sent to them in currency, and the person who’s sending it is anonymous?” he requested.

Also notable was that the donation was earmarked for the physics division, which has had a lengthy and distinguished historical past. In 1921, Albert Einstein gave one of his earliest U.S. lectures there, and the division has lengthy punched above its weight, with three of its alumni changing into Nobel laureates in physics.

With the coronavirus pandemic snarling mail supply on campus, the unobtrusive field in all probability sat for months within the school’s foremost mailroom like “a regular, everyday package” and was lastly taken with different gathered parcels to Dr. Menon’s workplace, most definitely in March, mentioned Robin Cruz, who runs the mailroom.

Credit…The City College of New York

But Dr. Menon had been instructing remotely since March 2020. He performed analysis in a lab throughout campus from his chairman’s workplace and didn’t examine his workplace mail till late summer season.

“It’s crazy that it just sat in the mailroom, or even that it was sent by mail — the person trusted the system so much,” mentioned Dr. Menon, who was leery of even touching the cash when he opened the field.

The cash was “treated like evidence” and saved in a secure within the public security workplace, whose officers contacted federal authorities “to see if it was possible that this was proceeds from criminal activity,” Chief Morena mentioned.

Based on info on the bands bundling the money, federal brokers decided that it had been withdrawn from a number of banks in Maryland in recent times and was not related to prison exercise, the chief mentioned.

The handle on the package deal, an precise home in Pensacola, Fla., didn’t result in anybody related to the donation.

Officials from the federal postal inspector’s workplace have been unable to acquire video of the package deal being despatched. So after a monthlong investigation, the authorities instructed school officers that the donor’s identification “really was untraceable,” Chief Morena mentioned.

With that, CUNY’s Board of Trustees was cleared to formally vote to just accept the reward at its assembly on Dec. 13.

They did so with giddy elation.

“That is absolutely astonishing, $180,000 in cash in a box,” mentioned the board’s chairman, William C. Thompson, in introducing the vote.

Asked by a board member if this was a first, CUNY’s chancellor, Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, mentioned, “Clearly in a box, I think it’s a first.”

A board member, Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez, mentioned, “We have to bronze that box and put it in a display case as the most generous gift.”

She praised faculty officers for following process: “They were like, ‘We are not sending this back — we will do all the due diligence necessary.’”

Dr. Menon mentioned the cash would have an outsize impression for the division, which might put it towards funding two full tuition scholarships every year for greater than a decade. In the spirit of the donation, he mentioned, the fellowship would require the scholars to “give back in some way,” maybe by peer mentoring.

The professor, who emigrated from India in 1996, has studied and performed analysis at public universities and personal establishments, together with Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Despite gives to show at elite faculties, Dr. Menon mentioned he has remained at City College largely as a result of of its dedication to providing an inexpensive training to a numerous physique of college students, many of them immigrants. Many of his college students come from households who’ve by no means attended school, and many have by no means been inside a laboratory, he mentioned.

“The impact factor of teaching here is much higher,” he mentioned. “It’s a place where you can elevate somebody.”

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