Changing Students' Lives Through Iconoclastic Philanthropy

Above: Phyllis and Jerry Rosenberg.


To this day, Jerry Rosenberg is not sure exactly why his grades were not very good when he was an undergraduate history student at SF State. However, he does remember being sure that he was not going to win any scholarships – they were only awarded to students with excellent grades.  

Jerry prevailed and graduated with a B.A. from SF State in 1962. While he loved history, he changed directions after graduating and started his own insurance business called The Rosenberg Company. A bit of an iconoclast, Jerry directed his business towards serving private clients that his competition rejected as too small. Slowly over time, his business grew and ultimately he became quite successful.  

Jerry decided to give back to his alma mater once he was able to, by creating an endowed scholarship fund. Reflecting on his experience as a student, and ever the iconoclast, Jerry’s approach was unique. The Jerold Rosenberg Family Scholarship, established in 2014, is awarded each year to first-year students in the College of Liberal & Creative Arts (CLCA) with a GPA of 2.5-3.33. The scholarship covers each student’s entire tuition and automatically renews each year if awardees remain full-time students at the University and maintain or improve their GPAs. Recipients are also eligible to apply for funding towards a graduate degree at SF State if they choose to continue their studies beyond graduation.  

Jerry’s theory was that relieving lower-performing students of the need to pay tuition for their entire college career would allow them to leave minimum wage jobs and spend more time on their studies, which would also result in their achieving higher grades and graduating.  

After more than 15 awardees, it appears that his theory was right. Every student who has received a Rosenberg Scholarship has graduated or is currently enrolled and on the academic path to graduation. On average, Rosenberg scholars complete their degrees a year earlier than other SF State students. Many have improved their grades, with some eventually placing on the dean’s honor list. By all accounts, the scholarship has been a shining example of how significant and continued student support leads to successful retention and graduation. 

Susan Shimanoff, the Associate Dean of Students in the College of Liberal & Creative Arts, oversees the scholarship and is enthusiastic about the success of the program, “San Francisco State students are very optimistic and determined, but they have a lot of obstacles in their way. They're struggling to support their families and their families are struggling for them to go to school. There's a lot they have to deal with. But Jerry’s scholarship means some students don’t have to struggle as much – they're taken care of. Now they can just work on their optimism and their determination and the gifts they already have.” 

When Victoria Thai (B.A., ’16) applied for the Rosenberg Scholarship, she was pursuing her dream of becoming a video producer in the Broadcast & Electronic Communication Arts department. She also held down two retail jobs, which she desperately needed because both her parents had been laid off and were unable to help her financially. When she received the Rosenberg Scholarship, her grades shot up almost immediately and she was able to quit one of her jobs. In her senior year, she was offered a paid internship at ABC7 News, which she was able to take because of the Rosenbergs’ support.  

“I really enjoyed the connection that I was able to make with the Rosenbergs,” recounts Victoria. She remembers that they checked in with her when she was at SF State, and personally encouraged her progress. “It was nice to have that human aspect to it,” she says. “It boosted my confidence. I was very introverted, so it kind of forced me to reach out and share my experiences with people.” Today, Victoria is a Technical Program Manager at PlayStation. 

Susan Shimanoff has often seen Jerry and his wife Phyllis nurture connections with students over the years. One situation stands out in Susan’s mind, involving a student who received a poetry award at an event the Rosenbergs attended. Susan remembers overhearing Jerry speaking to the student afterward and telling him, “We knew you before you were famous!” 

Because 30% of SF State students are the first in their families to graduate from college, Susan sees Jerry’s gift as being intergenerational, “The research shows that once you get past the first generation in a family, future generations go to college.” She’s also noticed that several of the Rosenberg scholars have enhanced their student experiences once receiving the scholarship – they become involved in and lead student groups, volunteer in their communities and socially connect in ways that were not possible without support. 

Susan hopes that in the future more first-year students apply for the scholarship and that the University can offer more students multi-year scholarships: “If we had more full scholarships for students, more of our students would graduate on time.” Jerry agrees and looks forward to other donors emulating his multi-year scholarship fund for lower-performing students. His wish for the Rosenberg Family Scholarship is that it will grow. He noted, “It’s nice to know that we could create something that is long-lasting – it will outlive me – and that will benefit people. Maybe it’ll benefit the country, who knows?” 


Soo Kim ( She/Her/Hers )
Senior Director of Development
Senior Director of Development (Creative Arts)
(415) 338-7113