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Philanthropist Supports UCSB Students with Scholarship Fund

Lady Leslie Ridley-Tree with UCSB doctoral grad-turned sociology lecturer Alexis McCurn, who as a student benefitted from the philanthropist's scholarship fund.

Santa Barbara –– With a new academic year underway at UC Santa Barbara, so too is an inaugural chapter for recent graduate Alexis McCurn. After spending a decade studying sociology, she’s now teaching the subject as a freshly hired lecturer in the campus department where she earned her master’s and doctoral degrees.

It’s the latest great leap in her enduring but sometimes rocky relationship with education. Diagnosed in high school with a learning disability, McCurn had to fight harder to achieve what came more easily to many of her peers.

“I was always wondering why I spent so much time studying to still get a C; something just wasn’t right,” McCurn recalled. “Discovering I have a learning disability was good news. It wasn’t me.

“I will say it’s tough to be learning-disabled and be in grad school, but I’m so glad I’ve done it,” added the newly minted Ph.D., an ethnographer whose dissertation examined public interactions of young women in inner-city Oakland. “Now I can tell other students: ‘You can do this. I know it’s tough and the way you learn may be different, but you can do it. There are people out there who believe you can do it and want to help.’”

McCurn encountered just such a person while studying at UC Santa Barbara: Lady Leslie Ridley-Tree, a prominent philanthropist and campus benefactor whose latest generous gift to the campus provided $500,000 for scholarships. The Lady Leslie Ridley-Tree Endowment Fund is meant to benefit outstanding students facing a barrier to education –– whether it be financial need or learning disability.

Said Ridley-Tree: “I believe in education. I believe that the only way that one can progress in life is through knowledge, and that the easiest way to get knowledge is through education. For many people it’s not available. In my life, I’ve always, always tried to help make it available in some way. That’s been an earnest drive within me.”

An honorary alumna since 2012, Ridley-Tree is a UC Santa Barbara Foundation trustee in addition to her role with the campaign. Her philanthropy to the campus also includes support for UCSB Arts & Lectures and the Department of Music.

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