March 2014

Igniting Student Philanthropy at UConn

Jennifer Doak-Mathewson
Jennifer Doak-Mathewson

3 min read

A nationally recognized crowdfunding competition that offers UConn student groups a chance at $27,000 in incentive prizes has returned for a second year.

The Ignite competition for 2014 involves 18 UConn student teams, including eight who competed in the inaugural 2013 event. It will run through April 6, 2014, with winners announced on April 17.

Unlike traditional crowdfunding campaigns, which often reward only projects that reach a specific goal, all donations to competing teams in Ignite go toward a team’s UConn Foundation fund. The competing teams therefore all win, with many counting Ignite as their most successful fundraising effort ever.

The 2013 grand prize winner, Community Outreach: Alternative Spring Breaks, used the $10,000 prize, plus more than $5,000 raised through donors in the competition, to cut the cost of an alternative spring break in half for participating students this year. Even the groups that competed but did not win a prize in 2013 used the donations raised from Ignite to benefit students. The Asian American Cultural Center, for example, offered a leadership conference for student members through their competition proceeds. More than $65,000 was donated through Ignite in 2013, from more than 2,600 donors.

The UConn Foundation is committed to increasing private support to meet the needs of a growing University. Programs like Ignite introduce philanthropy for UConn to students while they are still on campus and can directly experience the impact of their giving. Because of this, the competition is primarily focused on attracting student and young alumni donors. A revamped prize structure in 2014 also offers challenge awards for all donations from friends, family, and UConn faculty and staff. Of the student and young alumni donors to the 2013 competition, about 88 percent made their first gift to UConn through Ignite. The emphasis of Ignite is to compete for the number of donations, not the size of the donation, with a $5 minimum, which attracted students and young alumni who did not have a history or proclivity to past giving. Donations are accepted online, by text message, in person at the UConn Foundation building, or through specially organized events on campus.

The prizes are made available to the teams through the generosity of alumni David Barton ’61 and Adam Schwartz ’97. It is Barton’s fourth year supporting student philanthropy efforts through his giving. Schwartz’s gift this year will specifically support prizes for student team marketing efforts and the creation of a solicitation video contest.

The competing teams in 2014 span the breadth of a large public university like UConn, and include some of the largest, as well as some of the smallest, student organizations on campus. Competing are:

Allstars Aligned
AsACC’s Pan Asian Council
The BRIDGE Program
Community Outreach Youth Service Programs
Honors Alternative Spring Break (HASB)
Husky Sport
Living, Learning, and Experiencing (FYP & LC)
Pharmacy Student Leadership Fund
Seas the opportunity for UConn Sailing
SSS 4PhD
Support the Campus Sustainability Fund
TEDxUConn
UCMB Tower Project
UConn AIChE
UConn Formula SAE
UConn Greek Week
UConn Voices of Freedom’s Annual Gospel Tour
Veterans Student Organization – Support Activities

Surprisingly, the size of the organization does not determine the winner; last year’s competition revealed that comparatively small organizations, like the UConn Ski Team or the School of Engineering’s Eurotech Program, could win a prize through effective fundraising, innovative use of social media, and targeted marketing.

Ignite received national attention last year when it won a Silver “Circle of Excellence” Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), a national trade association, and was recently featured at a CASE regional conference in Boston.

For more information about Ignite or to make a gift in support of the competing teams, please visit huskydrive.uconn.edu.

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Doctoral Student Excels with Scholarship

Jennifer Doak-Mathewson
Jennifer Doak-Mathewson

2 min read

When David Jou ’89, ’92 and his family established a scholarship fund last year, they had someone like Tingyu Zhou in mind.

He and his wife Frances ’90 and their son Geoff ’11 wanted to support international study because they were international students who attended UConn, and they believed their education had a truly positive impact on their lives and careers. They designated their scholarship fund for international students or American students at UConn who study in Asia.

Zhou, the first beneficiary of the Jou scholarship fund, came to UConn in 2009 from China’s University of Macau, and she has distinguished herself here as a student, a teacher and a researcher. She “is the best student in the finance doctoral program and one of the top three doctoral students we have had in our program during the 13 years I have been at the University,” said Joseph Golec, finance professor who recommended her for the scholarship.

Zhou demonstrated significant academic achievement by winning all the 2013 finance department awards, according to Nancy Crouch, who nominated her for the Jou scholarship. She also has been active in research, with the publication of two papers in high quality finance-real estate journals and work underway on six other papers for submission to high quality journals. She has presented her papers at six finance-real estate conferences. “This is a better record than most new assistant finance professors and she is still a doctoral student,” said Golec in his letter of recommendation.

The scholarship support came in handy during her final year of study, helping with travel as she began her search for a job. “Receiving this award signifies to me that, as an international student, I have been successful in academic training at UConn,” said Zhou.

Another sign of success—Zhou was offered and has accepted the position of tenure-track assistant professor in the finance department at the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.

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Supporting the Power of a Graduate Education

Jennifer Doak-Mathewson
Jennifer Doak-Mathewson

2 min read

Richard ’69 ’77 and Kathleen Narowski have supported UConn for nearly 25 years, and it’s that shared concern for the future of education that has prompted them to now create an endowed graduate fellowship in the School of Engineering.

The couple says that in the decades since graduation, they had stayed in contact with the University, both in person and through watching UConn athletics; when they looked at ways to contribute more philanthropically, they realized a gift that supported graduate students was perfectly in line with both their needs and UConn’s priorities.

“Obviously, there’s so much more need than any one person can fill,” Richard says. “But we feel lucky to be where we are in life, and we hope that our gift will allow someone to use that support and make their own life better, or perhaps become a leader in their field.”

Both Kathleen and Richard see a strong future for UConn in priority areas like STEM education and believe that it will remain a key part of any long-term strategy for the institution, powered in part by private support that attracts the best students and faculty.

“Having a viable and strong graduate program in the School of Engineering will help bring new energy to campus,” says Kathleen. “You need that kind of new energy to, in turn, attract and recruit the best undergraduate students to your university. Our gift will hopefully help to keep those graduate programs strong.”

Richard also sees great potential in partnerships between UConn and local corporations, a perspective he gained from a long career at Hamilton Sundstrand and his time serving on the School of Engineering’s Computer Science & Engineering Advisory Board.

“We’re concerned with our nation’s competitiveness right now,” Richard says. “There has been great success in drawing people from around the world to come here to study, but it takes work to keep us at that level. Supporting graduate students seemed like a logical extension to be able to make an impact on that.”

While their support benefits highly technical fields, both Richard and Kathleen see that part of UConn’s appeal is the wide range of studies and experiences.

“We want UConn to be a top engineering school, but we’d hate for it to be known as JUST an engineering school,” Richard says. “So much of an education is exposure to other people’s thinking, through the arts or in other ways. I believe that having that kind of broad experience at UConn enriched my own background, and it’s almost as important as the classes a student takes today.”

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Alum Shares Knowledge, Creates Scholarship for Stamford Students

Jennifer Doak-Mathewson
Jennifer Doak-Mathewson

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For alumnus Christopher Lafond ’87, service to community goes hand-in-glove with philanthropy, and he demonstrates both through a new named scholarship fund for students studying at the Stamford campus, where he is also an active volunteer.

Lafond, the CFO and executive vice president of Gartner, Inc., a leading information technology research and advisory company based in Stamford, is a common sight on UConn’s regional campus. He serves on the advisory board for the MS in Financial Risk Management (MSFRM) degree program, regularly speaks to business classes and is helping with programs in the undergraduate marketing department.

“I have a pretty clear perspective, and I’ve chosen to spend my time volunteering in a few areas, mainly around education. Everyone deserves a great education like I had, and if you don’t build a strong, educated foundation in life, it’s very difficult to get ahead.”

He first became involved with the campus when the University reached out to him with an invitation to serve on the MSFRM advisory board, a step that he sees bringing benefits to both the University and the business community in Stamford.

“We have almost 700 employees here; this is local and close to home for us. When we looked to partner with educational institutions, we quickly realized ‘Hey, there’s a great University right here in Stamford.’ It just works for everyone involved.”

Lafond started a financial development rotation program within Gartner, exposing Stamford MBA students to a variety of financial service areas, as well as taxes, business intelligence and more. He says, though, that he especially enjoys personally sharing his business experience with classes of students.

“One of the best experiences for me is making education real,” he says. “I’ll get a question like, ‘Chris, I’m studying this business situation; how would you handle it?’ and I’m able to take the theoretical and turn it into applied practice. I just get a great deal of satisfaction out of it. It takes so little of my time and means so much.”

Lafond soon decided to make a major philanthropic gift to his alma mater, and the decision to create an endowed scholarship for business students at the regional campus was an easy one.

“I know from my involvement at UConn Stamford that there are a lot of students who may not be able to go to Storrs for family or personal reasons. But I want them to look back at their time at UConn and say, ‘I had a great education right here in Stamford.’ And I want to make sure that my gift was providing ongoing support, not something that goes away after a one-year period. It will be there for years, helping many students.”

He sees countless opportunities for alumni like him to make UConn stronger through volunteering or philanthropy.

“There are literally endless ways to give back, whether to UConn or whatever else you care about in life. It doesn’t have to be money! If you take an hour of your life and spend it with students, you’ll get the most amazing feedback, and you’ll feel that you’re really making a huge impact in someone’s life. When I am at UConn, I know that I’m helping those students graduate with knowledge they didn’t have before, which will help them in their own careers. So, alumni have an opportunity every day to add value to even their own education. It’s a little thing we can do to help a student that makes a big difference.”

He says that just like the impact of educating students, he wants his philanthropy to pay dividends in life for those who receive the scholarship support.

“I would hope that my scholarship allows some students to have opportunity they otherwise would not,” he says. “If I can help even a single student, that would be such a great thing to accomplish.”

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