The University of Texas at Tyler
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'Inspiring Excellence'

Comprehensive Campaign Exceeds Goal, Propels UT Tyler Into Future

 What this campaign did was provide endowed scholarships, bring in faculty and bring in a better student experience, which made it more of a home."
Dr. Lawrence Anderson
Campaign Chair

The University of Texas at Tyler's five-year fundraising campaign was a rousing success by every definition.

"Inspiring Excellence: The Campaign for The University of Texas at Tyler'' raised $30.6 million – the largest effort in university history.

Dr. Rodney H. Mabry, UT Tyler president, said the campaign raised funds to increase endowed student scholarships, establish more faculty chairs and professorships, and support the Honors Program.
"It was really about excellence at the university, having the funds to attract professors and students that will establish this as the place to be for high ability students in East Texas," he said.

Inspiring Excellence Committee chair Dr. Lawrence Anderson said, "The impact on the community and university will be felt for years and years and years by making the university affordable to students and bringing economic development to East Texas."

Anderson chaired the campaign along with his wife, Dr. Sasha Vukelja, and co-chair Fritter McNally.

Inspiring Excellence was launched in 2007 as a comprehensive campaign with a goal of $30 million, said Jerre K. Iversen, vice president for university advancement. The success was the result of the hard work of campaign leaders and the generosity of the community, he noted.

Dr. Mabry agreed. "I'm proud of the philanthropic tradition of East Texans,'' he said. "There is no city or area quite like this one for its willingness to support a good cause."

Turning a House Into a Home
From the beginning, the mission of the campaign was clear – to raise funds that would draw the highest quality students and faculty to UT Tyler on an ongoing basis.

Anderson explained why that goal was so critical:

"The people that have gone before us did a great job of building buildings, facilities and infrastructure, so we had a great 'house' here. What this campaign did was provide endowed scholarships, bring in faculty and bring in a better student experience, which made it more of a 'home,'" he said.

"The campaign was about filling out the university and making it affordable for students from East Texas and everywhere."

Three primary objectives of the campaign were the Honors College initiative, endowed scholarships and endowed chairs and professorships.

Scholarships help bring in high-ability undergraduate and graduate students. Those who receive scholarships are known to engage more fully in the complete university experience.

Endowed faculty chairs and professorships attract top scholars by providing research funds, salary supplements and travel funds.

"Professors who hold endowed professorships and chairs are in a special group,'' said Dr. Alisa White, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. "It's an honor to hold an endowed professorship or chair, and the university has been able to recruit some great scholars with significant experience to fill these positions."

Though capital gifts were not the main focus, the campaign also raised over $5 million for facilities, including a new building on the Palestine Campus, a water garden in front of the Robert R. Muntz Library and a new simulation laboratory for nursing students.

The resources brought in over the past five years will take UT Tyler to the next level for students and the entire community.

Honors students Amy Friesenhahn (left) and Samantha Godwin with Dr. Paul Streufert, executive director of
special academic programs and the Hamm Chair in Arts and Humanities.

A Risky Move That Paid Off
Dwindling resources from the state legislature, community-funded scholarships and professorships forced UT Tyler to take the bold step of launching a fundraising campaign to remain competitive in attracting top students, Iversen said.

Anderson agreed to take on the task of campaign chair for Inspiring Excellence because, "I believe in the university. It is an underappreciated jewel in East Texas."

Vukelja said she got involved because, "I see a tremendous need to support this institution. We want to make sure that we plant our seeds here."

Anderson and Vukelja wanted to help get the word out about UT Tyler. But it was not always an easy task.

A few months after the campaign launched in 2007, the Dow Jones Industrial Average stood at a record high, over 14,000 points. A year and a half later, the DJIA had dropped by 54 percent as part of an alarming economic downturn.

"That this campaign was successful in spite of that huge challenge, is a tribute to the donors in Tyler and the region who believed so strongly in UT Tyler that they still gave so generously," Iversen said.

Anderson added, "The university has a great story to tell. The campaign allowed us to get a forum to tell that story. Once told, people saw the value and were supportive."

Every gift, large and small, contributed to the campaign's success and will help transform and impact lives through excellence in education ... today and for future generations.

The university received 8,427 gifts from 3,607 donors during the campaign. Sixteen gift commitments were $500,000 or more. UT Tyler gifts included:

  • $13.7 million for student scholarships.
  • $3.8 million for faculty chairs and professorships.
  • $5.1 million for capital gifts.
  • $795,000 from President's Associates.
  • $612,000 for athletics.
  • Even though the campaign was largely focused on campuswide priorities, $8.9 million came in support of the university's five colleges.

In addition to outright gifts to the Inspiring Excellence campaign, many individuals contributed by creating planned gifts to benefit UT Tyler.

"A significant number of bequests have been created during this period," said Iversen, "as well as a variety of other very creative gifts which have added to the success of the campaign and will strengthen the future of the university."

Many of the planned gifts provide significant benefits to the donors who made them, while ultimately benefiting UT Tyler and students.

 

Making a Difference for Students

Amy Friesenhahn is one of those people touched by the generosity of contributors to the Inspiring Excellence campaign.

 The Inspiring Excellence Campaign has empowered the university by providing gifted students scholarships to attend UT Tyler."
Dr. Paul Streufert,
Executive Director of Special Academic Programs

Friesenhahn, a UT Tyler junior majoring in political science with a minor in pre-law, received a Regents Scholarship and the Bill and Glenda Barrett Scholarship. The Austin native is a part of the university Honors Program and captain of the tennis team.

“Receiving the scholarship absolutely impacted my decision to come to UT Tyler,” she said. “I applied to 10 schools. When I looked at all the factors such as campus, academic opportunities, tennis and school expenses, UT Tyler was the best choice. And after coming here for school, I know it was the right one. This scholarship enabled me to enjoy my college years without too much extra burden.”

She added, “UT Tyler is a place of academic excellence. The Honors Program is wonderful here and gives the students in it incredible opportunities. The professors here are extremely personable, encourage students to attend office hours and are very involved in helping students succeed. I have always felt like my professors personally cared about me and my academic success and it has made my experience here remarkable.”

Friesenhahn plans to pursue a graduate degree from UT Tyler as well. “My future career goal is to become a professor of political science or law. I love the academic environment and would relish the opportunity to impact students’ lives as my professors here at UT Tyler have done for me.”

Dr. Paul Streufert, executive director of special academic programs including the UT Tyler Honors Program, said students like Friesenhahn are why the Inspiring Excellence campaign was so critical.

“The Honors Program and the Inspiring Excellence campaign share a core philosophy, namely that people who strive for excellence elevate the community as a whole. In the Honors Program we work to keep excellence at the forefront of students’ time here at UT Tyler,” said Streufert, an associate professor of English who also holds the Hamm Chair in Arts and Humanities.

The Inspiring Excellence campaign has empowered the university by providing gifted students scholarships to attend UT Tyler, Streufert added. The Honors Program now has 80 students in the program, with a large portion of the scholarships they receive coming from campaign donors.

 “Endowed scholarships are vital to our program. They allow the Honors Program and UT Tyler to compete with bigger schools for top students. Many of our students would not have come here without the endowed scholarships. They would have attended another university, a junior college or, in some cases, not have participated in higher education at all.’’

That was true in Honors student Samantha Godwin’s case. “At first, attending UT Tyler was a financial decision,’’ the psychology major from Hemphill said. “I was paying for college myself so money was key.”

Godwin earned a spot in the Honors Program and the accompanying scholarship was provided by endowed funds raised during the Inspiring Excellence campaign. She received a scholarship from the Harold and Eleanor Stringer Family Endowment last year. Her scholarship this year is from the Murphy Payne Charitable Trust. 

Dr. Kouider Mokhtari (center and UT Tyler student Salomon diaz interact with Caldwell Elementary student in
tutoring session. Mokhtari's work includes developing reading intervention programs for local schools.
He holds the Anderson-Vukelja-Wright Chair in the School of Education.

Making a Difference for the Community

UT Tyler’s Inspiring Excellence campaign has gone a long way to raise community awareness of the university.

“The campaign shines a light on our cause,’’ Deanna Sims, assistant vice president for university advancement, said. “It has given us a lot of community and alumni visibility. People enjoy giving to and being a part of something that’s successful and growing.”

By giving to the university, supporters have invested in the community.

For example, a passion for literacy and education led Drs. Lawrence Anderson and Sasha Vukelja to create the Anderson-Vukelja-Wright Chair in the School of Education, part of the College of Education and Psychology. Dr. Kouider Mokhtari, who shared their heart for literacy, joined the university in 2011 as a result.

“I’m very passionate about helping children, adolescents and adults become literate,’’ said Mokhtari, “especially those who find learning to read and write difficult. The endowment played an important role in helping me decide to seek and eventually join the faculty in the School of Education at The University of Texas at Tyler.”          

  Through the endowed chair, Mokhtari has been engaged in research, teaching and outreach activities to advance literacy teaching and learning at the university and community levels. A few examples include:

  • Leading the development of a new online master’s degree in reading within the UT Tyler School of Education to prepare classroom reading teachers, reading specialists and literacy coaches.
  • Collaborating with local area schools on developing reading intervention programs to improve the reading achievement of struggling elementary and middle school students.
  • Working with various community groups to form the Tyler Area Partners for Literacy initiative, a new communitywide initiative that seeks to advocate for, promote and support literacy among children and adults in Tyler and surrounding communities.

Anderson said he couldn’t be happier with the results of Mokhtari’s work.

“Dr. Mokhtari has already started to make great headway at some of the elementary schools. Kids that are having trouble with reading are being helped and UT Tyler students are involved with that real-time experience,’’ he said. “When you bring in people who have a real passion for what they do, it is not just about academic research.  It is in a real world environment where it has an impact.”

Resources that support research and community involvement like this enable the university “to be the incubator for innovative ideas and solutions that we strive to be,’’ said Dr. Alisa White, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

“Our faculty members are doing incredible work from biology to nanotechnology to new and improved teaching methods,’’ White said.

“All of the research programs made possible by the Inspiring Excellence campaign help to produce a university of which we can be proud, both for its teaching as well as its research,’’ she said. "This is good for the professor, good for the university and, most importantly, good for the community.’’

 

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