UC Provost creates scholarship for first-generation students

Scholarship honors husband

On his way to work each day, University of Cincinnati Provost Valerio Ferme takes his three grandchildren — 5-year-old twins Lucy and Serenity and 3-year-old Dante — to UC’s Arlitt Child Development Center.

During one of their daily drives to campus, Lucy noticed a man holding a sign saying he was homeless.  

“She said, ‘Grandpa, why aren’t we helping this man without a home? We should stop, pick him up, take him home and give him some quiet time, and then give him some food,’” Ferme says. “This is a 5-year-old girl thinking in these terms. It’s pretty remarkable.”

You could say Lucy’s instinct to help others is a family trait. 

Valerio Ferme with his granddaughter.

Valerio Ferme and granddaughter, Lucy.

Ferme, who was appointed provost in August after serving as dean of UC’s College of Arts and Sciences, and his husband, Giorgio Corda, are raising the children. On a recent family vacation in Arizona, Ferme arranged a surprise Zoom call with his former team to share with Corda that a scholarship had been created in his honor.

The Giorgio Corda First Generation Scholarship Endowment Fund will support first-generation students in the College of Arts and Sciences with a preference for students who are, or have been, in the foster care system.

“I was very surprised and very pleased,” Corda says. “It showed that Val really understands me and what is important to me.”

It was those similar interests and backgrounds that first brought the couple together.

Ferme and Corda are native Italians, raised by mothers who stressed the importance of education and the value of being generous. Taking these lessons seriously, each have pursued careers that lift others: Corda is a social worker with a focus on children, and Ferme is an educator.

While living in London, England, Corda considered adopting a child and found a blog detailing Ferme’s experience adopting sons Michael and Devin at ages 10 and 11, respectively. Ferme and Corda began corresponding.

“When I wanted to adopt, I started thinking about these older kids who sit in the foster care system,” Ferme shares. “These are the kids who have a history of feeling rejected, so don’t we have a duty to help them out?”

Two men and three children. Children holding umbrellas.

Ferme and Corda with Serenity, Lucy and Dante.

Corda and Ferme began communicating and eventually became a couple while Ferme was living in Colorado with his sons, then teenagers. Ferme’s gift recognizes Corda’s dedication to children in foster care and specifically, their own children and grandchildren.

“I wanted to honor both Giorgio’s persistence and dedication to education, and the time he spent doing the kind of work that I think we relate to,” he says. “He came in and helped out with my kids, and now we are doing the same work with the grandkids.”

As a former first-generation student himself, Corda was persistent in his pursuit of an education, earning both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He often thinks about the difference a scholarship made for him, not only financially, but also emotionally.

“I remember the realization that came with my scholarship that someone cared for me,” Corda shares. “I want other students to feel that way. I want them to know that someone cares about them.”

The Corda First-Generation Scholarship connects them to their home where the family of five is flourishing. Ferme says they hope to meet future scholarship recipients and see them advance as well.

“Having been in education, I understand the value of helping others afford college,” adds Ferme. “Philanthropy is important to me because I’ve seen it modeled by my mother. I think we have a duty as people who have means to help kids that don’t.”

Featured image at top: Valerio Ferme, Lucy, Dante, Giorgio Corda, Serenity. Photo/Michael Keating for the UC Foundation.

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