Making a Difference for Students

Written by: 
Ernestine Bousquet and Claudia Taylor

Notable alumni Melissa Rycroft Strickland ('05) and Peter Weller ('70) hosted UNT's Emerald Eagle Honors fundraiser — the backdrop for the announcement of "The Campaign for UNT" — at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas this April (Photo by Jonathan Reynolds)For violinist Seula Lee, music defines how she perceives the world. How she conveys her emotions. How she envisions her future.

The music performance senior chose UNT's world-renowned College of Music to perfect her craft under the guidance of acclaimed violinists. Lee, a co-concertmaster of the UNT Symphony Orchestra and a violinist for the UNT Center for Chamber Music Studies Piano Trio, spends up to 10 hours a day practicing.

That dedication has translated into numerous achievements, including winning the 2013 Coeur d'Alene National Young Artists Competition, the 2012-13 Sheila & Werner Harms Young Artist Competition and UNT's annual Concerto Competition in 2013. With such notable awards and the knowledge she's gained at UNT, the virtuoso is on her way to fulfilling her dream of playing the violin as a lifelong career.

But this wouldn't be possible without the donors who support scholarships that fund her education and competition travel. Other donors bestow their gifts to support faculty who push her to musical greatness and the university where her transformation is possible.

"Without scholarships, I wouldn't have been able to attend UNT's music program, and I wouldn't be able to pursue music full time," says Lee, who earned a scholarship that honors UNT's renowned former conductor Anshel Brusilow and another established by longtime benefactor Paul Voertman. "The scholarships helped change my life."

Donors, including both UNT alumni and outside supporters, have coalesced around UNT's push to greater excellence in a powerful way. At a gala event April 15, UNT unveiled the public phase of its comprehensive fundraising campaign. The campaign, called The light is green. The time is now. The Campaign for UNT has raised 85 percent of its $200 million goal. The campaign also includes a banner year of giving in 2011 during which UNT received a $22 million pledged gift — the largest in its history — and a $20 million naming sponsorship for UNT's Apogee Stadium.

The Campaign for UNTMore than just a fundraising effort, The Campaign for UNT is raising the profile for UNT as a growing public research university while expanding the university's reputation and sphere of influence. The campaign is focused on three main goals:

  • Raising money to support the university and its people
  • Engaging more alumni and supporters in the life and progress of the university
  • Developing a stronger culture of philanthropy at UNT

"The campaign name says it all," says President V. Lane Rawlins, who will continue to help with fundraising as President Emeritus after his retirement later this year. "UNT has momentum that builds on our long history as the engine of the North Texas region and our commitment to being the green light to greatness for our students. We're maturing as an institution — in everything from research to influence. And there's widespread excitement about what we're doing and where we're going."

"All this, coupled with the strength and growth of the region and the state, has put UNT in a prime position to seize new opportunities. This campaign is helping fuel our efforts."

UNT announced the campaign to an audience of more than 1,000 alumni and supporters at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas as part of the university's star-studded Emerald Eagle Honors: Recognizing a Lifetime of Contributions to the American Landscape. The event is a fundraiser for UNT's signature, award-winning Emerald Eagle Scholars program, which supports primarily first-generation college students from families with limited means. Hosted by two prominent UNT alumni — Melissa Rycroft Strickland ('05), who won Dancing With the Stars: All-Stars, and actor Peter Weller ('70), who is best known for starring in RoboCop and is starring in this summer's Star Trek Into Darkness — the event honored alumni and future graduates, celebrating the transformative power of a UNT education.

Alumni honored at the event included Dallas City Manager Mary K. Suhm ('74 M.S., '84 M.B.A.), NFL Hall of Famer "Mean" Joe Greene and the late Roy Orbison, a rock 'n' roll icon who attended UNT in 1954-55 before his quick rise to fame.

The event provided the perfect backdrop to publicly announce a campaign that is changing the face of UNT, says Michael Monticino, vice president for advancement.

"This campaign is about supporting our students and reinforcing excellence at UNT," Monticino says. "Every dollar we raise, every donor we attract, every additional alum we bring into the fold goes toward creating the best educational experience for our students."

Supporting student success

Robert Bland, professor and chair of public administration, with mentee Chelsea Gonzalez ('13 M.P.A.), recent public administration graduate. (Photo by Jonathan Reynolds)While every area of UNT benefits through the campaign, Monticino says, the campaign is directing critical support to scholarships, student life programs, faculty positions, research and facilities through private support as well as foundation and corporate support.

Fostering student success is fundamental to UNT's mission. And thanks to more than $27 million raised for new scholarships, The Campaign for UNT is making it possible for Lee and other high-quality students like recent public administration graduate Chelsea Gonzalez ('13 M.P.A.) to find their path to greatness.

Gonzalez chose UNT because of the strength of its graduate city management program, which U.S. News & World Report ranks first in Texas and eighth nationally. She also earned the Hatton W. Sumners Foundation Scholarship, which provides $27,000 for tuition and expenses over the course of the program to five UNT M.P.A. students each year. The Sumners Foundation has partnered with UNT for more than 35 years, ensuring that the university has an impact in city government throughout the North Texas region.

"That scholarship played a big role in why I chose UNT," says Gonzalez, who landed a full-time job with the town of Addison under city manager Ron Whitehead ('80 M.P.A.) after she graduated in May. "Now that I see how much UNT's M.P.A. program has helped me, I see how critical it is to help the next generation succeed."

UNT's M.P.A. network is far-reaching. More city managers in Texas hold a degree from UNT than from any other university, according to an analysis of the Texas City Management Association's directory.

Gonzalez also earned the College of Public Affairs and Community Service's Debra Brooks Feazelle Internship Award, an endowment that honors one of Texas' first female city managers, the late Debra Brooks Feazelle ('89). The award, which provides a subsidy to small cities or organizations to hire UNT's M.P.A. interns, gave Gonzalez the opportunity to intern in Kennedale with its city manager, Bob Hart ('78 M.P.A.).

Career preparation and personal development is something to which campaign co-chair Frank Bracken ('63) can relate. Bracken, retired president of Haggar Clothing Co., says what sets UNT apart from other institutions — and a big reason he chose UNT himself and excelled in business — is that it offers a full college experience filled with opportunity, all at an affordable cost.

Frank and, his wife, Janet, give time and money to UNT. They support six student scholarships in the College of Business and recently committed $100,000 for study abroad and student exchange experiences. Frank Bracken also serves as the president of the Sigma Nu fraternity's Dallas Alumni chapter, volunteering time to mentor his UNT brothers.

"If all you do when you're in college is go to class and go to work, then you miss half your college experience," Bracken says. "That's why scholarship support is so important. It helps take the financial burden off students so they can focus on growing as individuals."

Promoting faculty excellence

The campaign is reinforcing faculty excellence by supporting research and scholarship and helping UNT attract additional distinguished researchers and scholars, an important focus for a public research university committed to achieving recognition among the country's top research universities. The campaign has led to the creation of a number of endowed chairs and professorships attracting renowned faculty to UNT.

Yong X. Tao, PACCAR Professor of Engineering and director of the PACCAR Technology Institute at UNT. (Photo by Jonathan Reynolds)Yong X. Tao, an internationally known expert in sustainable energy research and technologies, joined UNT as the PACCAR Professor of Engineering and the director of the PACCAR Technology Institute. Both positions are supported by a $1.5 million gift from PACCAR, the parent company of Peterbilt Motors Co. headquartered in Denton.

"Having support for research is critical for faculty members like me as we seek solutions to grand challenges such as dealing with a limited supply of energy sources to sustain the growing population," says Tao, who also serves as chair of the Department of Mechanical and Energy Engineering and directs UNT's Zero Energy Laboratory. The department and the lab have established UNT as a leader in research developing renewable energy and sustainable technologies.

"A big part of what we do as researchers is share our knowledge with the next generation so they can carry on the innovative ideas and apply problem-solving skills," Tao says.

UNT's communication design program has inspired donors, too. In 2012, UNT received a $2.5 million bequest from an anonymous donor to establish the Jack Sprague Communication Design Program, in honor of one of the College of Visual Arts and Design's most distinguished faculty members. The endowment created with the gift will generate more than $100,000 a year in scholarships and support for faculty and student projects, program resources, guest lectures and publications. Sprague retired in 2009 after 20 years of teaching at UNT, including 14 as head of the program.

"UNT's reputation as a leader in art education comes from its ability to nurture creativity," says communication design student Steven Schroeder, who earned the Taylor Austin Hicks Memorial Scholarship for the exploration of conceptual thinking reflected in his work and the Mack Mathes Scholarship, another award for UNT's best art students.

A portion of the gifts raised during the campaign have earned matching funds from the state's initiative to help its eight emerging research universities move to the top tier. They include a gift from Don Buchholz ('52), a former member of the UNT System Board of Regents, who along with his wife gave $1 million to establish the Mike Moses Endowed Chair in Educational Leadership.

The Buchholzes generously gave an additional $1 million for the Donald A. Buchholz Doctoral Program in Educational Administration Scholarship. And Buchholz's Dallas-based firm, Southwest Securities Inc., gave $1 million to support scholarships for the College of Education's Southwest Securities Superintendent Certification program.

Developing a culture of philanthropy

With transformation being a key theme, The Campaign for UNT is helping usher in a new era of giving, led by longtime donors who've paved the way. Many of them are part of UNT's Founder's Circle, which consists of donors who have given more than $250,000 during their lifetime and are members of the McConnell Society, the Matthews Society or the Kendall Society. Each society is named for a former president who had a deep and lasting impact on UNT.

Le'Nore and C. Dan Smith ('62), former UNT football player and former chair of the UNT System Board of Regents. (Photo by Gary Payne)C. Dan Smith ('62), a former chair of the UNT System Board of Regents, has been supporting Mean Green athletics for more than 30 years. He was instrumental in raising funds for UNT's one of a kind Apogee Stadium, giving $1 million and rallying other supporters. Smith is committed to helping UNT build state-of-the-art facilities, where student-athletes can excel and fans can enjoy cheering them on.

Smith, a former football player who was recently inducted into UNT's Athletic Hall of Fame, says athletics is the key to engaging alumni and current UNT students, a critical element of The Campaign for UNT.

"A lot of people think athletics takes time and resources away from the academic side," Smith says. "But the reality is if you get the athletic side moving and you get people involved and excited, a lot of them also will get excited about academics."

Smith is not alone. Last year, a committee led by former UNT track and field standout Ernie Kuehne Jr. ('66), who made a $1 million gift to athletics, helped raised more than $3 million in 30 days to fund a new basketball practice facility, new scoreboards in the Coliseum and endowed scholarships. The effort capped off a decade of momentum for Mean Green athletics, with more than 10 new facilities opening since 2004.

Smith, his wife, Le'Nore, and Kuehne are part of the McConnell Society, recognizing generous donors who have contributed $1 million or more.

But Smith points out that every gift helps the university succeed.

"We do need the large gifts, but people who donate $100 or $500, will be the same people who in the future will donate larger amounts." Smith says. "Every gift is important regardless of the amount."

Engaging alumni and supporters

Key drivers in The Campaign for UNT are the new alumni and friends who are connecting with UNT with first-time gifts to the university or by enrolling in the UNT Alumni Association. The UNT Annual Fund comprises thousands of donors who support UNT with small gifts that make a large impact.

Brian Heldebrandt ('97), regional manager for supply chain operations at Verizon. (Photo by Gary Payne)Brian Heldebrandt ('97), one of the first UNT students to study logistics and supply chain management in the College of Business, is now a regional manager for supply chain operations at Verizon.

Heldebrandt says he would not be where he is today if his mentor — Jeff Sager, marketing and logistics department chair — hadn't encouraged him to take an internship. That opportunity, coupled with strong mentoring, launched his career.

And now he's giving back to UNT through a monthly gift to the UNT Annual Fund and represents a younger generation of alumni who are maintaining strong ties to UNT. For its part, the university is hosting more alumni networking events and is concentrating on more personalized engagement. UNT has doubled membership in the UNT Alumni Association during the campaign.

In organizing the campaign, several influential alumni and major donors agreed to serve on a steering committee to oversee the efforts of more than 100 volunteers who are raising gifts on behalf of UNT's 12 colleges and schools as well as athletics and other programs. The steering committee is led by four campaign co-chairs who include:

  • Janet and Frank Bracken ('63)
  • Gayle Strange ('67), former chair of the UNT System Board of Regents and president of Axiom Commercial Co.
  • G. Brint Ryan ('88, '88 M.S.), vice chair of the UNT System Board of Regents and founder, chair and CEO of Ryan LLC

The Campaign for UNT will open doors for students of all backgrounds and help them achieve their goals, says Strange, who along with her husband, Virgil ('68), are members of the Founder's Circle.

"Today, private giving is more important than ever to a public institution like UNT," she says. "Without the help of our alumni and friends, we can't help our students reach new heights and achieve what we know UNT is capable of achieving. UNT has made a difference in so many lives — that's the legacy we are upholding through this campaign."

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