Illustrations by Dave Cutler | Coleman Cornelius contributed reporting
Students describe the significance of philanthropy
If you’re a fan of land-grant universities like Colorado State, you probably know how President Abraham Lincoln created them: In 1862, he signed into law the Morrill Act, which ignited a revolution in higher education.
The act created a U.S. system of public colleges and universities that, for the first time, made higher education available to the masses – notably, the children of working classes. Seed funding for these schools of agriculture and engineering came from grants of federal lands, which could be sold or managed long-term for revenue. Students would be steeped in science and classical studies, using their knowledge to spark new innovations and to fuel social and economic progress.
This academic year, Colorado State University is celebrating the 150th anniversary of its official founding and has returned time and again to these principles – to the promise of land-grant education.
But Karey Olson, a senior from Pueblo, Colorado, has returned to the concept of land-grant education time and again – and again, and again, and again. Olson is among Abraham Lincoln’s biggest fans: She has devoured more than 200 books about the 16th president and has studied more than 100 of his papers. In fact, Olson is such an admirer that she aspires to a professional career working for the National Park Service, preferably in a capacity related to the president. (Hello, Lincoln Home!)
It was fitting Olson came to Colorado State for her college studies: Not only is the University’s history entwined with Lincoln, but it offers a stellar academic program in the human dimensions of natural resources – a field tailor-made for students with her interests.
“From the moment I set foot on campus, it felt right,” Olson said. “The people were welcoming, the campus was beautiful, and it felt like home. I knew CSU was a place that could help me achieve my dreams.”
To top it off, the University awarded Olson the Leon H. and Katherine Rust Hurd Scholarship. It’s among dozens of scholarships CSU donors have funded to help fulfill the essential land-grant mission of providing students with access to educational excellence. As Olson noted in a letter to her scholarship backers, “I have a strong passion for our protected landmarks and natural spaces. My passion for the history of our country and education are equally strong.”
Student scholarships have been one focus of CSU’s landmark State Your Purpose comprehensive fundraising campaign, which publicly launched in early 2016. The campaign goal: Raise $1 billion in philanthropic gifts to support students, faculty research and scholarship, academic facilities, and more. The campaign would be a powerful rising tide to lift all University boats.
And there was a deadline: Meet the $1 billion goal by 2020 to celebrate CSU’s 150th anniversary – and all the education that lies ahead.
On June 30, the University will conclude its ambitious State Your Purpose campaign with thanks and elation. Generous donors reached the goal nearly two years early and have continued to give well beyond the $1 billion benchmark to benefit University students, teaching, research, and service.
“This scholarship gets me a step closer to completing my undergraduate degree and a step closer to my career goal of being an accountant. Thank you for this wonderful gift. I will not let you down.” – Hammed Sule, business administration
A city of donors – some 135,000 total – have contributed to the campaign, enriching every aspect of campus and vaulting many programs to a level of excellence they could not otherwise achieve.
October 1, 2019
Dear Mr. Scott,
I believe that no words exist within the English language that can adequately express the magnitude of the impact you’ve made on my life. A year ago, I arrived at CSU as a naive, nervous freshman, carrying with me the most powerful gift I have ever received in my life; an education.
However, throughout my first year here, I realized that you have given me so much more than that. Your generosity brought me to where I’m meant to be. This school is my home, and the past year has encompassed some of the most incredible educational, social, and professional experiences of my entire life.
You’ve served as someone I can look up to and aspire to be like. Your vast professional successes are only triumphed by your desire to give back and make an impact in the lives of others, and you truly embody what it means to be a good person.
Through the Walter Scott, Jr. Scholarship, you have equipped me with the tools and resources to build my place in this world, and you’ve provided me with the confidence to pursue new ideas that challenge the definition of what is truly possible. Your investment and belief in me as an individual have changed my life for the better, and one day, I hope I can say that I have used it to do the same.
Walter Scott, Jr. Undergraduate Scholar
“Our supporters are fundamental to making Colorado State University a world-class place to live, learn, and discover,” President Joyce McConnell said. “Our University has touched many lives through its 150 years, and this campaign will help us continue that impact well into the future.”
There were some skeptics at the campaign’s outset; after all, $1 billion was a lofty goal. But don’t underestimate the CSU community. “We have a history of people telling us we can’t do something, and then we just go ahead and do it,” Kim Tobin, vice president for University advancement, noted.
Tobin’s predecessor, Brett Anderson, was central to jump-starting the campaign with former CSU President Tony Frank, who transitioned last year to work full time as CSU System chancellor. McConnell and Tobin are leading the campaign to its remarkably successful conclusion.
“I want to use my history major to develop comprehensive public policy so that I can give back to the public. I am so grateful to have been chosen as a Blake Leadership Scholar and am excited to begin my college journey.” – Corinne Neustadter, history
“Philanthropy matters, and people connected to CSU – our alumni, our supporters, people who work on campus – understand what that means,” Tobin said. “Whether it’s buildings being built, a college being named, an alumni center becoming part of campus, scholarships for students, or support for our amazing faculty, people understand that their generosity can be such a difference-maker.”
Supporters are stepping up to ensure an astonishing finish. For instance, the University recently announced a game-changing gift of $5 million from Chancellor Emeritus Joe Blake to support the College of Liberal Arts, which provides programs he calls “the liberating arts.” Meantime, Nutrien, a global provider of crop inputs and services, committed a pivotal $10 million to scholarships, teaching, and research in the College of Agricultural Sciences, becoming namesake of a core college building, which is now undergoing significant remodeling. Both of these gifts are the largest ever received by the colleges.
They are but two of many record-breaking gifts during the campaign. Indeed, donors have provided more than 190 gifts of $1 million or more. Those include the two largest gifts in University history: $53.3 million from alumnus Walter Scott, Jr. for College of Engineering facilities and educational programming, an infusion that renamed the college in his honor; and $42.5 million from philanthropists John and Leslie Malone to establish the C. Wayne McIlwraith Translational Medicine Institute in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Results of philanthropy during the State Your Purpose campaign are visible corner-to-corner on campus. (Many building upgrades are described in the Fall 2019 issue of Colorado State Magazine.) Yet all of these gifts – whether for facilities or to support faculty research and scholarship – ultimately benefit students and the University’s academic mission. In this way, donations have been not only record-breaking, but life-changing.
From the perspective of students, the campaign could be capped with another phrase: “State of Gratitude.”
“To have someone out there believing in your dreams without even knowing you is such a blessing,” said Jose Rivera, a first-generation college student from Aurora, Colorado, who was selected as one of the first Michael Smith Scholars in Chemistry. The award, established in the College of Natural Sciences by alumnus and energy entrepreneur Michael Smith, is among the prestigious scholarship programs started during the fundraising campaign.
Donors have established nearly 800 new scholarships during the campaign. They have provided more than $116 million for student scholarships based on academic achievement and some $76 million for scholarships based on financial need. Donor-funded scholarships add to other forms of financial support available to qualifying students, including federal student aid and CSU’s own Colorado Tuition Assistance Grants, which often substantially lower costs of attendance.
“My aspirations include being actively involved in clinical veterinary research with a particular emphasis on pharmacological therapeutics and modeling. I also aim to help increase diversity within the veterinary field. Thank you so much for selecting me for this scholarship! It will really help offset the costs of staying at CSU for my master’s program.” – Zaria Vick, toxicology
That’s vital: More than 70 percent of the University’s 34,000 students receive scholarships and financial aid – a sign of the critical importance of both need-based and merit-based support in attracting and nurturing bright students devoted to tackling the globe’s pressing challenges.
“My scholarships helped me stay focused on academics, and my path to graduation became more and more clear. I am so thankful for the assistance,” said Muhamed Babiker, who graduated in December with a degree in construction management and is starting his career as a field engineer in Denver. Born in Sudan and raised in Denver, Babiker was a first-generation student and hopes to give back to other students yearning for college education.
As many donors understand, scholarships have grown increasingly important as state funding for public higher education has trended downward in Colorado and across the country, thus shifting the lion’s share of the tuition burden from the state to students and their families. For context, Colorado ranks 47th in the nation based on state funding for public higher education. This shift is among several key factors heightening nationwide concerns about access and affordability in public higher education.
“I hope to use my education to develop sustainable agriculture around the world. Your generous donation allows me to more fully invest myself in my academic career. Thank you for supporting my dreams.” – Tad Trimarco, soil and crop sciences
Take heart, donors. Your support is helping put Colorado State students ahead of the curve based on debt at graduation: Of CSU students earning bachelor’s degrees, 47 percent graduate with zero student loan debt – none. Of undergraduates who borrow, the average loan debt at graduation is $24,500, new data show. That’s well below state and national averages, and roughly the price of a car – an amount of debt that can be successfully managed with the higher earnings that come with higher education, McConnell said.
Rivera, the Smith Scholar in Chemistry, said his need- and merit-based support are allowing him to embark on a scientific career in a field he chose because “I fell in love with what our eyes can’t see.” “Since I am a first-generation student, I have received tons of support, for which I am truly grateful,” Rivera said. “Becoming a Smith Scholar has given me even more encouragement to accomplish my dreams.”
Students who rely on service programs, such as Rams Against Hunger, which helps fulfill food needs, likewise have received a boost from the State Your Purpose campaign. Like scholarships, wraparound resources offset the total cost of college attendance and allow students to limit college jobs and focus more fully on academics. A growing body of research underscores the need to address the total cost of college attendance, including living expenses, to ensure higher-education access, timely degree attainment, and reduced student debt.
“Access to a quality education is a cornerstone of Colorado State’s mission,” McConnell said. “The campaign gave CSU resources that are a critical component to access. Those who donated to aid student success didn’t aid just one generation of students. Every generation of Rams into the future will benefit. I can’t thank our supporters enough for believing in this University.”