Donor pledges $100,000 for scholarships through School of Social Ecology partnership

Alec Glasser

Alec Glasser has established a new scholarship for UCI students who plan to use music in some way in their future careers. Photo by Mimi Ko Cruz

Gift benefits UCI students who want to infuse music in future careers

UC Irvine students who are passionate about music, even if they are not music majors, can apply for scholarships, thanks to a $100,000 pledge from The Drake Gives, a charitable organization founded by commercial developer and restaurateur Alec Glasser. 

“We believe that music is a fundamental part of the soul and it can be applied in many different contexts,” Glasser says, adding that the scholarships will go to students who plan to infuse music in their future careers. 

Glasser, who owns The Drake Restaurant in Laguna Beach, learned to play saxophone, clarinet and flute in public schools in New York where he grew up. He believes everyone should have a chance to study and enjoy music even if they don’t become musicians. For example, he loves music and infuses it in his business with live nightly jazz and blues performances at The Drake.

Music has been found to stimulate parts of the brain, and studies have shown that music enhances the memory of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. In fact, a UCI study found that scores on memory tests of Alzheimer’s patients improved when they listened to classical music. Music even helps with healing, according to another UCI study.

Research also finds that children and teens who study music perform better in school and that playing music activates many senses in the brain that increase thinking skills, including social and emotional awareness, and improves interpersonal communication.

To that end, the School of Social Ecology and Glasser are working on additional collaborations to further efforts to manifest the power of music in society, locally and abroad. 

“We are grateful for the generosity and partnership of Alec Glasser and The Drake Gives. These scholarships will help support our students looking to make positive change in the world through their appreciation of the power of music,” says Dean Jon Gould. “This gift will not only have an impact in the School of Social Ecology but it also will support a variety of UCI students interested in bringing their passion for music into their future careers.”

Glasser named his restaurant after the famed Drake Hotel in New York, where he worked as an elevator operator and bellman as a young man. 

The job taught Glasser about hospitality and how to treat people. “I learned how to be a young businessman and I met these wonderful people — Sammy Davis Jr., who turned out to be a very good friend; Mohammad Ali, John Coltrane; the Grateful Dead; The Who,” he recalls. “They all stayed at The Drake and I got to meet famous people who created opportunities for me. But, the most important thing I learned is that if you work hard and you earn people’s trust, then you don’t need to ask them for anything. People will respond and you will be rewarded.”

Now, Glasser is giving back. He started by creating The Drake Gives in 2021, and partnered with Save The Music Foundation to help thousands of schools nationwide start and sustain music programs.

Glasser tells us why he gives in his answers to the following questions:

Why did you establish the Drake Gives/Alec Glasser UCI Music Scholarship?

I’ve always been inspired by music. It was a great channel for me creatively as well as cognitively and socially. Music opened the doors for me in so many different ways that at this point in my life, what I want to do is to make sure that kids in underserved communities have the same opportunities that I had when I was growing up in New York City, where there was a very robust music education program. 

That’s where I learned to play saxophone, clarinet and flute and I want to create the same opportunities for kids now, so we partnered with Save the Music Foundation which has been doing precisely that over the last 25 years. Our partnership started about two years ago and we were able to make an immediate impact with a program in L.A. that needed funding in 2022 and 2023 for 14 middle and high schools. Our next event extended a program in the Anaheim Elementary School District that was at the end of its term, as well as jump starting a program in middle and high schools in Anaheim for 2023 and 2024. So, the scholarship program is a great segway from public school into a college environment that gives underprivileged kids the ability to have music involved in their educational path. Not necessarily going into music careers but to use music in whatever they do vocationally in the future because music is a force to inspire and create and bring people together. It can be applied to many different professional careers, many different areas of our lives, and that’s why I feel the scholarship program is so important.

How has music inspired you?

Music was my path toward getting involved socially and artistically when I was a kid. I didn’t really have a direction. My opportunities to participate in sports in the large middle schools and high schools in New York City were limited for me, but music was a wide open area that I could go into and it inspired me to be better academically. It inspired me to be more social with people. I was kind of a quiet kid, a little withdrawn and it got me out and involved and, artistically, it was an opportunity to understand what creativity is all about — it’s magical how you can start something from nothing on the paper, for example, and create something. It was an inspirational force in my life. 

In what ways do you envision the scholarship recipients contributing to the wider musical landscape?

It’s not necessary for the scholarship recipients to pursue a music career. So, I’m hoping that when we pick the recipients, we can do it with a very broad brush, understanding that we just want to expose them to the power of music and have them create new opportunities to use music in our lives. There are infinite ways music can be used and we need new creativity to keep that moving forward.

How do you use music to create these opportunities?

We have a very robust music program at The Drake Restaurant. The idea was to have really wonderful food together with wonderful live music in one place, so I’m involved now with the selection and production of the daily musicians that we present seven days a week and we have monthly ticketed shows. Now, we’re starting to do concerts off-site. We’re talking to the Barclay Theater about co-sponsoring some more performances there. We’ve already co-sponsored one last spring. I’m involved with music through UCI in a number of efforts to bring music into the curriculum, even internationally. It’s fun. It’s a big element for me.

What does music mean to you?

In a world full of news that seems continually bad and divided in our society, what I think I’m doing with music is bringing people together. Whenever I go to a concert, I never think about the political affiliations or anything else. It’s all about enjoying and celebrating the music and being present in the moment. 

How do you envision your scholarship evolving in the future?

I’m hoping this is just the first of many scholarships that we do. We’re starting with $100,000 and I’m hopeful that is going to get into the hands of five to 10 students. Then we will continue to support the students throughout their college careers and add more. 

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I’m thankful for everything that music has done for me in my life. I’ve been very blessed and I just want to share it with people around me and people who I don’t know as well. I’m very happy and blessed that we are starting this partnership with UCI because the university has so much involvement in the community and I’m happy to be part of it. 

How to apply

The Drake Gives/Alec Glasser UCI Music Scholarship is a need-based award. UCI students interested in applying for the scholarship must submit a FAFSA form. Then, to apply for the scholarship, students use their UCInetID to login to Scholarship Universe. Student responses to the questions will determine whether they meet the minimum criteria for being considered to receive The Drake Gives/ Alec Glasser UCI Music Scholarship. A scholarship committee will choose the recipients.

Mimi Ko Cruz
Director of Communications