When Tinotenda Duche was a small child and still a stranger in this country, a third-grade boy sneered at her and told her she would “never succeed because you’re a foreigner.” She knew she would prove him wrong.
Elizabeth Bickel’s family had once been strangers in this country as well. They remembered what that felt like, and made it a point to help new immigrants in any way they could.
When Bickel died in 2021, she left a bequest to create a scholarship fund at the Charitable Foundation with a focus on assisting first- and second generation Americans to get the education they need to thrive.
Bickel’s scholarship fund now is helping Tinotenda make her way through the University of New Hampshire, where she is majoring in biochemistry on her way to becoming a medical doctor.
“The scholarship has helped me tremendously. I am able to focus a lot more on my academics and on being able to excel,” said Tinotenda, who is also working as a resident assistant and is responsible for the cost of her own education. She is now in her third year of study at UNH and has dreams of attending Tufts Medical School.
Elizabeth Bickel had a strong sense of her own good fortune — her own mother, Irene Zalewski-Dobrowolski, was a medical doctor and her father, William Dobrowolski, was a dentist. They supported her throughout her education at Michigan State University. She became a professional landscape designer and ran her own business. Her husband, Thomas Bickel, was a mathematics professor at Dartmouth College. Thomas Bickel died in 2017.
“She felt the right thing to do was to give back,” said Eric Janson, an attorney who helped Elizabeth with her estate. “The most important thing to her was providing scholarships to students who may not have been as privileged or as lucky as she was.”
Elizabeth Bickel (left) and her friend Cherry Angell working in the Canillas Community Garden in Lebanon, NH. (Photo by Cheryl Senter.)
The Bickel scholarship is unrestricted and so may be awarded to any student; Elizabeth’s preference was to focus on first- and second-generation Americans. Unrestricted scholarships help the Foundation — the largest provider of publicly available student aid in New Hampshire — to distribute scholarship dollars where the need is greatest.
The first awards were made from the Elizabeth I. Bickel Scholarship Fund in 2022. Forty-six students have received awards already, and the fund is positioned to help New Hampshire students in perpetuity.
Nishimwe Bitimea of Manchester became a licensed nursing assistant and started working while she was just a junior in high school. She is now attending UNH with help from an Elizabeth I. Bickel Scholarship. She carries a full load of classes while also working as a program assistant at Lamprey Health Care in Newmarket. She is majoring in healthcare management and policy with a focus on public health. Her dream is to work in healthcare management and help people who face barriers to care to be able to get the care they need. (She also has minors in both international affairs and women’s and gender studies.)
The scholarship award helped Nishimwe continue her education uninterrupted. Without the funding, she would have had to take a semester off to work full-time and save, and would not have graduated with her class.
“With the degree, I really hope to make an impact in my community,” Nishimwe said.
Elizabeth was deeply concerned about the ever-widening income inequality in the U.S. She read widely — plants, Eastern religion and politics were three of her favorite topics. She volunteered helping survivors of domestic violence and was a devoted volunteer at the Canillas Community Garden in Lebanon, which provides people with garden plots for growing fresh vegetables and flowers.
Cherry Angell was a longtime friend of Elizabeth’s who volunteered with her at the community garden.
“She was quite a lady, a very, very smart and capable woman,” Angell said. She recalls Elizabeth talking about the scholarship, and her own family’s story of immigration. “Her parents had been immigrants, and she wanted to help other people. I think it’s wonderful.”
When Elizabeth spoke to Foundation staff about creating her scholarship, she explained how her family had emigrated from Poland, and that her parents always found ways of supporting New Americans — helping to pay for education, offering a place to stay, helping people find work.
The Elizabeth I. Bickel Scholarship is the next chapter of that American story.