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Newlyweds inspire support of CSUEB scholarships


Professor Eileen Barrett (left) and Elissa Dennis (center) with Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, who presided at the wedding ceremony. (Photo: Courtesy Eileen Barrett)

  • April 6, 2014

Before Cal State East Bay English professor Eileen Barrett married her partner of 28 years, Elissa Dennis, both knew what they wanted as wedding gifts from family and friends.

The longtime Oakland residents wanted donations to go to a scholarship fund benefitting CSUEB students who are graduates of Oakland’s public high schools. Barrett and Dennis, an affordable housing advocate, would match dollar-for-dollar every individual gift.

The couple married at Oakland City Hall last July 8. The day was extra special as it was the 98th birthday of Dennis’s mother, Naomi, who served as the maid-of-honor. Mayor Jean Quan presided at the ceremony.

Since the wedding, contributions to the “Oakland to East Bay Scholarship Fund” have totaled more than $17,000, and five students already have been awarded $900 scholarships. The selected applicants wrote of families living on the financial edge and of wanting to pursue their educational dreams without being a burden but rather a role model for younger siblings. All awardees are a testament to the potential of first-generation college students, educated through the Oakland public school system and inspired by family members, to achieve their goals and succeed at Cal State East Bay.

“I’ve taught many students who have overcome unbelievable odds in pursuit of an education,” said Barrett, who in June was named recipient of the Sue Schaefer Award (for sustained service to the faculty) by the CSUEB Academic Senate. “Students have inspired me and given back to me in so many ways.”

Scholarships have a significant impact on students of Cal State East Bay, where more than 60 percent of them receive financial aid.  Financial difficulties are cited as the primary reason CSUEB students leave school without graduating. Generous support from concerned members of the University community provides assistance for students who need to complete their degree.

To discuss creating a scholarship fund, please contact Kate Shaheed, director of Annual Fund and Giving Programs, at (510) 885-2839 or Gifts to benefit scholarships at CSUEB can be made online at

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