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The Power of the Many, Year After Year

by Jan Read No Comment

The operation and future of the College of Arts and Science relies on alumni such as these.

powerofmanyA funny thing became clear when we contacted a representative group of Arts and Science alumni about their regular contributions to the college.

Not one of them thought their steady, modest gifts were worth talking about.

We disagree.

We know the power of many small gifts coming from the pockets and hearts of many generous donors to the College of Arts and Science. We know that regular, consistent donations help fund scholarships, pay salaries, renovate classrooms, support research and keep the lights on. Each year, thousands of alumni make it possible for today’s students to receive the kind of education that those alumni did. And today’s students will, in turn, support the students that come after them.

They do so for a variety of reasons. Gratitude. Affection. Conviction. Loyalty. We call these donors—and the thousands of others like them—heroes. Benefactors. Friends.

“Last year, thousands of alumni, parents and friends gave to the college. Many of these gifts came from people who have regularly given over the years,” says Carolyn Dever, dean of the College of Arts and Science. “As I travel the country and meet with alumni, I hear such great stories about how alumni feel about the college and why they believe in it. These people are so vital to our mission.

“Annual giving allows us to continue investing with robust creativity in our educational mission,” she says. “From funding student trips to hiring outstanding faculty and enhancing our financial aid offerings, these annual gifts make a real difference. All support—in any area, in any amount—counts toward Arts and Science’s success.”

Love Ranks First

So why do alumni who give regularly do so? The top reason is love of Vanderbilt and their time on campus, but also high is the importance of supporting education.

For Mary Louise Tidwell, BA’45, MA’46, both reasons are valid. “I loved my time at Vanderbilt,” she says. “Oh, the professors I had!” She put her English degrees to use as a society reporter for The Tennessean and penning a biography of her father, Tennessean founder Luke Lea. Her longtime work as a community volunteer showed Tidwell that other foundations and organizations see strong alumni giving as an ongoing vote of support for the College of Arts and Science. “I only give a pittance, but I know that it’s important that I give. So I do,” she says.

“Vanderbilt holds a special place in our hearts and it established the foundation for what we’ve accomplished.”

– Adam Birenbaum, BA’00

In fact, the percentage of alumni donating to an institution is one of the factors that influence the annual U.S. News & World Report rankings of universities, notes Dever. “The magazine considers alumni satisfaction as important in the health and value of a university. They look at the percentage of alumni who donate as an indicator of that satisfaction,” the dean says.

Love of family and the university are the reasons that Diane Moore Williams, BA’52, gives. “I’m so proud of my degree, and I loved Vanderbilt,” she says. “I give because it became a habit that was started by my father, who attended Vanderbilt from 1916 to 1918. He loved Vanderbilt, and he supported Vanderbilt. I’m trying to be like him, and it’s a habit that I’m really proud of.”

The avid Commodores fan also supports higher education. “The country would be in a heck of a bad shape without higher education,” she says. “I want to be a part of Vanderbilt’s present and future.”

Support for Education

The university changed the lives of Adam Birenbaum, BA’00, and Dr. Gretchen Sander, BA’00. The two, now married with a baby daughter, met a week into their freshman year and have been together ever since. “Vanderbilt holds a special place in our hearts,” says Birenbaum, now a lawyer. “And it established the foundation for what we’ve accomplished.” Sander says grants she received made it possible for her to attend the College of Arts and Science. “I give because it’s important for me to give other students the chance that I had,” she says. Sander is now a pediatrician and works in an underserved community in St. Louis. That work, her husband says, has been her lifelong dream.

Others give in support of higher education as a whole and of the College of Arts and Science in particular. Lewis Schmidt, BS’81, says Vanderbilt was more than an academic experience for him. “It was the whole nine yards,” he recalls. Along with earning degrees in history and special education, he worked on The Vanderbilt Hustler and the concerts committee, played in the band and was active in theater throughout his university career. “I think it’s important to support what Vanderbilt gave me,” the high school special education teacher says. “And I support education because it helps produce teachers, who make the real difference in the world.”

Geoff McClelland, BA’62, grew up in the Midwest and came to Nashville for something different. He remembers his time here as a learning and growing experience during the Civil Rights era. “I feel blessed that institutions like the ones I went to are still here,” the retired advertising executive says. “My gifts are a very small way to pay back for great teachers, great institutions and the expectation that they will continue.”

Morris “Morry” Edwards, BA’72, attended Vanderbilt because of its excellent reputation regarding the Fugitive and Agrarian groups. “Education is so important to a democracy because a democracy is predicated on its electorate being knowledgeable,” the psychologist says. Of his consistent, steady giving, he says, “I don’t think that I give so much that it makes a real difference. But it’s what I can do, so I do it. I hope the numbers add up.”

The numbers do add up. They matter. They’re the power of the many, year after year.

illustration credit: James Yang/Image.com

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