Allison Feldman had a successful career in medical sales, had just bought her first home and had a loving network of family and friends. But on Feb. 18, 2015, the University of Arizona graduate and Minnesota native was found slain in her Scottsdale home. She was 31.
Three years later, police are still searching for her killer.
As Feldman's family and friends await justice, they set a goal of raising $25,000 to create a permanent endowment with the UA Foundation. The Allison Feldman Memorial Scholarship will provide opportunities for students to participate in UA Study Abroad programs, paying tribute to the most transformative experience of Feldman's life.
Harley Feldman, Allison's father, said his daughter initially was hesitant to live overseas, but he encouraged her to visit the UA Study Abroad office. As he sat by her side, Allison signed up for the Arizona in Alcalá de Henares program through the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. Allison was a junior majoring in communication and minoring in Spanish when she went abroad in the spring of 2004.
"She cried at the airport before she left for Spain. But she called home two days later and was having the time of her life," Harley recalled.
Growing Close in an Unfamiliar Place
Monica Brown and Rob Stirling also took part in the Arizona in Alcalá de Henares program, bonding with Allison as the three settled into a new country.
"We were so close as a group," said Brown, remembering that each had a nickname. "I looked really young at the time, so Ali — we always called her Ali — called me 'the 9-year-old.' It was a term of endearment, and I loved it. She was so bubbly and funny. She had that ability to make you feel welcome."
Stirling said he was outside his comfort zone in Spain, but Allison and the other students made it feel like home.
"Like Ali, my family encouraged me to study abroad," Stirling said. "I was nervous about being on my own, but it ended up being one of the best times of my life. Ali's father describes it as the same for her."
Melissa A. Fitch remembers Allison well. Now a University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese in the College of Humanities, she led that Alcalá de Henares program in 2004.
"I can't think of Allison without seeing her smile," Fitch said. "Her smile was what characterized her. She had a gentle, sweet, funny personality, and just such a beautiful smile. Her group was so excited when they arrived in Spain."
Known as the birthplace of literary legend Miguel de Cervantes, Alcalá de Henares, or simply Alcalá, is a bastion of culture less than 30 miles from Madrid. Harley Feldman said Allison enjoyed visiting historic sites and restaurants and practicing Spanish with hospitable locals.
Fitch described Alcalá as a funky and friendly town with an important history, and also loud — not in a negative sense, but in the way its people communicated. But on March 11, 2004, two months into the program, the typical noise fell silent when the community learned that bombs had exploded on trains heading to Madrid.
All of the UA students were safe in Alcalá.
"To go through that, to be in Spain then, it tells me that these kids must have really helped each other," Harley Feldman said. "They were so close as a group. They really looked out for each other. That was one thing Allison took away from study abroad, that strong group experience."
Friends United by Common Thread
The new friends remained close when they returned to the UA and after graduation. Stirling embarked on a career in law and Brown in education; Allison entered the sales industry.
"She moved to Phoenix in search of work and took a job selling copiers. Nobody wanted to buy one," Harley Feldman said. "She would go down the halls of offices and get turned down 99 percent of the time. But she would just say, 'Tomorrow will be a better day.' She didn't let little things set her back. I think that strength came from study abroad."
Brown and Stirling also settled in the Phoenix area and had what they called "Spain reunions" in which Allison took part. They thought of the scholarship in her name.
"What happened to her was tragic, senseless and hard to explain. It has haunted me," Brown said. "If we could at the very least do something to honor her, to make her proud, that is all we want. We want to give that gift in her memory to as many people as we possibly can."
"I hope we can encourage students who may not otherwise consider study abroad, or make study abroad easier financially for students to participate," Stirling added. "It changed all of us, including Ali, for the better, and we hope that others can get that opportunity as well."
Brown and Stirling launched a crowdfunding campaign for the Allison Feldman Memorial Scholarship on Feb. 13 with support from the UA Foundation and Office of Global Initiatives. Once they reach $25,000, an endowment will be established in her honor for UA Study Abroad scholarships.
Allison's father is backing the effort. He wants prospective study abroad students to know that his daughter returned to the U.S. more confident and excited about life — and a fluent Spanish speaker.
"It's about learning about other cultures and interacting with people you might be uncomfortable with," he said. "It forces you to be engaged. You realize that despite differences, we all get along. That's a big lesson."
Fitch remembers hearing about study abroad at Allison's funeral. "Her father was talking, and he said Allison went to Spain a little girl and returned a confident young woman, excited about all she had to offer the world," she recalled.
Telling the story in a coffee shop three years later, Fitch recalled a quote from former President Ronald Reagan that she said "captured Allison."
She read aloud: "There is a flickering spark in us all which, if struck at just the right age, can light the rest of our lives, elevating our ideals, deepening our tolerance, and sharpening our appetite for knowledge about the rest of the world. Educational and cultural exchange provide a perfect opportunity for this precious spark to grow, making us more sensitive and wiser international citizens throughout our careers."
Fitch added: "This scholarship has to exist because of that flicker. We have to ignite that flicker."