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Seniors give back to build a Bearcat

New senior giving campaign gets students in the habit of supporting UC

UC received gifts from 31,457 alumni, faculty, staff and friends during the 2007-08 academic year. Some gave back because they received a scholarship or other assistance as a student and wanted to ensure future students have the same chances they did. Others wanted to support particular programs or departments in the face of dwindling state funding. Some were simply grateful for the positive impact UC had on their lives and the community.

Of course, those same sentiments are reason enough for UC students to give, as well. For many years, senior giving campaigns have been a tradition within UC colleges, raising money for a variety of initiatives, from benches and study areas to scholarships and social events. This year, the 2008 senior class took the effort to the next level by forming a partnership with the UC Foundation and the honorary fraternity Sigma Sigma with a goal of eventually raising enough money to build a statue of the bearcat on the university campus.

In the end, the students raised several thousand dollars. And together with donations from Sigma Sigma and a private gift, they were able to assemble starter funds of more than $10,000 toward the statue.

Natalie Kohne, CCM '08, senior class president and one of the architects of the Senior Class Giving Campaign, says statues at other colleges seem to instill a sense of school spirit and pride, and are often a destination for students and visitors alike.

"We liked the idea of raising money for something that everyone could enjoy," she says. "We also thought it would be really cool for seniors who gave to the statue fund to come back to campus some day and say, 'I helped build this.'"

Educating students about UC's need for private support and the importance of making regular gifts to the university before they become alumni is one of the main goals of the UC Senior Class Giving Campaign. The campaign also gave them an opportunity this year to make a symbolic first gift of $20.08 as they transitioned from students to alumni. Tom Hadley, associate vice president of student services and a senior class adviser, says students are willing to give because they value their time at UC.

"Part of the reason we thought this campaign would be successful is because students are more satisfied than ever," said Hadley, who points to sizeable gains in UC's Student Satisfaction Inventory, released in May. "Students who are engaged on campus and have good experiences are much more likely to stay connected and support the university in the future."

A unique aspect of the 2008 campaign was the concerted effort to spread the word and get students involved early in the year. Working alongside annual giving staff from the UC Foundation, senior class officers relied on a variety of innovative mediums to get their message out, including a postcard mailer in the fall and an e-mail movie presentation in the spring. They even created a Facebook page devoted to the statue-building campaign.

"Using Facebook increased our visibility because it allowed us to send invitations to view the page to seniors we know, who then forwarded the invitation to seniors we may not know," said Kohne. "It helped us get the word out much more effectively, and it didn't cost anything."

Seniors were allowed to make most of the marketing and design decisions themselves, which gave them real-world experience in running a fundraising campaign. For instance, Kohne --with UC Foundation intern Jerry Tsai, A&S '08, '06-07 student body president, and other members of the senior class --came up with the marketing slogan "Make Your Mark" and developed a senior class T-shirt as a way of thanking donors for their gifts. They also came up with different ways to raise money for the statue aside from the first symbolic gift.

One of the most successful and memorable events was Grad Bash, an annual gathering and informal send-off for seniors on McMicken Commons. While celebrating the end of their college careers, seniors raised money for the gift with the "Goodbye to UC Dunk-Tank." Seniors encouraged fellow students to dunk professors and other UC personalities for $1 a toss.

The event raised funds for the statue and allowed seniors who weren't able to make a full gift to participate by giving what they could. And even more important, they had fun doing it.

Kohne hopes the 2008 senior class giving campaign is successful in building a statue of the Bearcat on campus. She's also hopeful that students remember why it's important to give back when they can. "I tell classmates all the time that part of the reason you have a nice campus and good professors is because people before you donated to the university and made it what it is today. When you choose to give, you're strengthening the university for the next generation of students."