When we think of a person’s legacy, we tend to think of something left behind — a posthumous work or achievement, a bequest to a loved one. For John ’91MBA and Cynthia Chamberlin ’95 ’98MBA, they didn’t want to think about their legacy in the past tense; they wanted to build one they could see in their lifetime.

The UCF alums recently donated two gifts that will provide scholarships to nontraditional students in the College of Sciences: an estate gift, which is a gift of property that UCF will receive through the Chamberlins’ estate, and a cash gift. The cash gift will establish the John E. and Cynthia A. Chamberlin Scholarship Fund and the estate gift will endow the fund in perpetuity.

While the estate gift will support future generations of students, the cash gift will have an immediate impact, providing “a wonderful opportunity for us to meet the incredible minds we’re investing in,” Cynthia says.

Cynthia knows a thing or two about being a nontraditional student. Shortly after graduating high school, she moved to New York City and worked as a live-in nanny and at various other part-time jobs for several years.

When she moved back to her home state of Florida, she didn’t find her dream job, but she did find love, and the person who would become her biggest supporter. John, a former helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army, was finishing his MBA at UCF when he met Cynthia. The two soon became engaged. But as they were saving for their wedding, Cynthia was laid off from her administrative job.  Rather than cancel the wedding, John had an idea.

He said to Cynthia, who was then in her mid-30s: “What if we don’t get married right away? We can live together, I’ll pay all your expenses, and you can go back to school. Then, after you graduate, we will get married.”

Cynthia thought this was a smart plan and enrolled at Valencia College to earn her associate degree. Next came UCF. Inherently a hard worker, she eagerly signed up for 60 credit hours her first semester, until she realized that was prohibited by the college.

“My student advisor and I compromised on 18 credit hours per semester,” she says, smiling.

Cynthia finished her bachelor’s in marketing quickly, earning top grades along the way. At graduation, John pointed to a group of people wearing a special kind of regalia. He asked Cynthia if she knew who they were. She didn’t. He explained those were people who went on to earn a master’s degree. Smiling at her affectionately, he said, “The deal stands. If you want to go for it, we’ll get married after you graduate.”

Cynthia accepted his offer and pursued an MBA.

At her next graduation, John pointed out another group of people who he said had earned their doctoral degrees.

“I told him, ‘No!’” Cynthia says, with a laugh. “You are marrying me!”

John’s support of Cynthia wasn’t merely a kind gesture or an act of fiscal responsibility; he saw what her mind, combined with a steadfast drive, was capable of, and he wanted her to see that for herself — to pursue goals she never thought possible.

Now, Cynthia and John want to help others realize their full potential, starting with opening doors for nontraditional students pursuing STEM careers. The Chamberlins see these individuals as the unseen trailblazers — the innovators and changemakers — who will shape the future.

“When you step into an elevator, you don’t think about the engineer who designed it,” John says. “But we rely on these people every day. They’re not recognized, but they’re essential to society.”

John’s exposure to the world of science goes back to his childhood. His father had a doctorate in biology from Harvard University and worked with the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in Washington, D.C. — contributing to numerous studies and technical reports on marine wildlife and climatological conditions.

“It was a biology lesson every time we walked outside,” says John, who often identified birds, examined various rocks and studied clam fossils with his father.

His dad’s love of science also rubbed off on John’s brothers: His older brother has a doctorate in entomology and his younger brother is a marine technology professor at the New England Institute of Technology.

In 1982, John earned a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Studies from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and has had a nearly four-decade-long career specializing in safety, identifying and mitigating workplace hazards to promote safe environments. For nearly seven years, he worked with the shuttle program at the Kennedy Space Center — even presenting at the SpaceOps conference in Heidelberg, Germany, in 2008 — and is now a safety specialist with Siemens Gamesa.

Cynthia’s long career in pharmaceutical sales sparked her interest in the sciences. Working in the medical industry, she enjoyed learning about the field’s ever-evolving innovations and discoveries — new devices and research that could allay or cure diseases. Though the job could be demanding, her drive and curiosity to learn enabled her success.

Now retired, she is just as interested in learning new trends and developments in the STEM fields. Recently, she attended the UCF’s Women Supporting Science event, organized by the College of Sciences, at the Exolith Lab, a UCF-based lab where students help develop and produce lunar and asteroid regolith (soil) simulants used by researchers across the world.

“I was in awe of these women,” she says. “You just knew you were in the presence of brilliance.”

At the event, she talked to students who were mothers, students working multiple jobs and students who were both. Touched by their stories, she wanted to do something to support their education while relieving their financial burden.

“I’d love to see the students who maybe didn’t have all the resources growing up be able to achieve their potential,” she says, “and for economics not to be the reason why they couldn’t.”

UCF is Florida’s premier university for engineering and technology and one of the nation’s largest producers of engineering and computer science talent. With the Chamberlins’ scholarship fund, the College of Sciences can extend more life-changing opportunities to aspiring students who will transform the modern world — such as discovering innovative solutions for space travel or pushing the frontier on groundbreaking technologies.

“The real heroes are the women going for STEM,” says Cynthia, who is involved in several women’s organizations at UCF, including as a board member for Town and Gown as well as the Women’s Club, where she is also chair of the Meetings and Planning Committee. She recognizes the “incredible brain power” of these women, and with access to a good education, they can unleash their boundless curiosity and advance STEM fields across multiple industries — while making inroads for other women and underrepresented groups.

“What a contribution to the world that becomes,” Cynthia says.

The John E. and Cynthia A. Chamberlin Scholarship Fund is, essentially, an extension of Cynthia’s experience as a nontraditional student. Though it wasn’t always easy going back to school and being surrounded by people younger than her, she did it anyway, doggedly pursuing her ambitions. Now, she gets to share that experience with other students while giving them the encouragement and financial resources to achieve their educational goals.

“It would be an awesome opportunity to meet the students this scholarship will help,” she says. “I know I wouldn’t be here without John helping me.”