A generous gift from Debra Cohen will support student scholars and cancer researchers affiliated with the Cancer Center at Illinois (CCIL). The “Ira R. and Debra J. Cohen Cancer Center at Illinois Scholarship Fund” and the “Ira R. and Debra J. Cohen Cancer Center at Illinois Research Fund” will help cancer scholars with financial needs and cancer researchers seeking funding for novel pilot studies.

Debra and her late husband, Ira, have a long history as philanthropists at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Ira was an alumnus of Computer Science (B.S. C.S., 1980) who became the co-founder and vice president of Advanced Systems Concepts in Schaumburg, IL. The Cohens have initiated numerous scholarship funds throughout their notable history with Illinois. They have also supported Illinois Promise, ensuring higher education affordability for students from the lowest income levels. The Cohens were also 2014 recipients of the William E. Winter Award for Outstanding Advocate Leadership at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Ira passed away in December 2021, but Debra is continuing their legacy of philanthropy at Illinois with this new gift to the CCIL.

The Cohen’s interest in creating cancer research opportunities for high school students led them to the CCIL. In 2015, they helped initiate researcHStart, a program for high school students to explore a potential career in cancer research. CCIL Director Rohit Bhargava was one of the first individuals they partnered with as researcHStart established its presence, first at the University of Chicago, and then on to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and other satellite campuses.

“Through our relationship with Rohit, we saw the important work happening at the Cancer Center at Illinois,” said Debra. “I want to support students needing scholarships and researchers looking to support their innovative cancer studies. Throughout our giving history to the University of Illinois, scholarships were always a focus for Ira and me. Students are our future, and we do not want finances to prohibit them from succeeding.”

The Cancer Center at Illinois is incredibly grateful to the Cohens. Their generosity and visionary commitment to future generations of students and cancer researchers illustrate the difference philanthropy can make in the fight against cancer.

“I lost both of my parents to cancer, and Ira lost several family members to the disease, so it has been essential for us to support this work. I hope others will see this gift and consider how they can join me in supporting student scholars and cancer research,” said Debra.

Editor’s notes:

Written by Jonathan King, CCIL Communications Team