Joshua John pursuing computer science degree with aid from NHBZ-UMSL Undergraduate Scholarship

by | Feb 28, 2019

The scholarship has been awarded the past five years with funding from Susan Feigenbaum, professor emeritus of economics, and her husband, Dr. Jay S. Pepose.
Jay Umansky, Rabbi Ze've Smason, Joshua John, Chancellor Tom George

Computer science major Joshua John (third from left) has been chosen the recipient of the NHBZ-UMSL Undergraduate Scholarship. John is flanked by (from left) Jay Umansky, vice president of the board of Nusach Hari B’nai Zion synagogue; Rabbi Ze’ve Smason; and UMSL Chancellor Tom George. (Photos by August Jennewein)

Joshua John wasn’t exactly sure he wanted to go to college when his family was relocating to St. Louis and he was completing high school.

“I guess just the kind of places I was around, I was discouraged to go to college at first,” John said recently.

It was interactions with people at the Nusach Hari B’nai Zion synagogue that helped convince him not only to think hard about higher education but also to explore the opportunities at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

Now, almost two years after he enrolled at UMSL, the congregation in Olivette, Missouri, is supporting his pursuit of a degree in computer science through the NHBZ-UMSL Undergraduate Scholarship.

Susan Feigenbaum, Dr. Jay S. Pepose

Susan Feigenbaum, professor emeritus of economics, and her husband, Dr. Jay S. Pepose, have funded the NHBZ-UMSL Undergraduate Scholarship for the past five years.

The scholarship has been awarded the past five years with funding from Susan Feigenbaum, professor emeritus of economics, and her husband, Dr. Jay S. Pepose.

“Susan was one of the people who told me about UMSL,” John said. “Also Alex Lyss, who’s an alumnus. I think that’s probably where I heard about it the most, and that’s where I got interested in the university.”

John wasn’t certain what he wanted to do, but a friend majoring in computer science exposed him to programming, and he was quickly taken with the creativity it allowed as he worked to engineer something to solve a problem.

Homeschooled throughout high school as his family moved around because of his father’s military job, John looked at programming as another opportunity for independent study, and he began learning all he could about it.

He’s enjoyed getting to continue that education in a more formal setting at UMSL.

John, whose particular interest lies in artificial intelligence, is now planning to pursue both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree through the integrated BS/MS dual degree program, commonly referred to at the 2+3 program. The scholarship will help him do so.

“Money is a tight thing,” John said. “It’s expensive to go to university, so to receive a scholarship like that, I couldn’t begin to express how much I appreciate it.”

Rabbi Ze’ev Smason is happy his congregation can support students such as John studying at UMSL.

“We see ourselves as a synagogue as not only part of the broader Jewish community, but we see ourselves as part of the broader St. Louis community,” Smason said. “I think that one of the things that’s very special and important about UMSL to us is that a very high percentage of students at UMSL are from St. Louis, and when they graduate, many remain in St. Louis. So it’s an investment in all of the good things that education does, both in our congregation, in the Jewish community, and it’s an investment in St. Louis.”

Smason, whose wife and two of his daughters hold degrees from UMSL, said John, a student in the Pierre Laclede Honors College, was a particularly deserving scholarship recipient.

“He’s one of the shining stars among our younger people,” Smason said. “It’s a wonderful thing in this day and age to find an individual who’s spiritually engaged, an individual who sincerely and spontaneously has connected with his faith and with his religious heritage.”

John is confident he made the right choice at UMSL. He’s appreciated what he described as the “mature atmosphere” on campus and has enjoyed his classes. He’s also gotten involved in the UMSL Hillel, which began operating on campus last fall.

“It’s been going well,” John said. “It’s still small, but we’re getting more members there and trying to get the word out. That’s the biggest thing. We’re trying to really tell people, ‘Hey, there’s a Hillel, it provides support for Jewish students.’ We’ve had a few events, and a number of people have shown up. It provides a good Jewish culture.”

Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik