Chicago Initiative continues, celebrates strong fundraising year

By Online Editor

A mural of student faces representing the “future of ideas” will backdrop the first anniversary of the public launch of the Chicago Initiative Capital Campaign, to be held Tuesday.

The program will bring together 250 donors, alumni, and leadership volunteers to gauge the state of the University by touring construction sites, attending faculty panels, and meeting with the University’s board of trustees, according to Karen Alexander, assistant vice president of University development and alumni relations.

This year’s anniversary will have special cause for celebration. Despite the slumping economy, the $844 million amassed so far toward the $2 billion goal is “more than at pace with last year,” Alexander said.

“We’re very encouraged,” she said. “What we’ve found is that it’s all the more important to keep in touch with our friends-that’s what keeps the alumni committed.”

Organizers hope the Initiative will be strengthened by increased student involvement, which will recast the Initiative in a more positive light.

“There’s been an effort to bring this campaign home to students, to find a message that will resonate with students, and to get students to relate to the campaign,” said Student Government President Enrique Gomez.

That duty has been given to the Student Steering Committee, a group of about 10 graduate and undergraduate students. The committee, supervised by Bill Michel, assistant vice president for student life and associate dean of the College, has met since last year’s public launch of the capital campaign.

“We have the practical goal of letting students know what’s going on [with the campaign],” Gomez said. “We tried to come up with ways of marketing this to students.”

The Chicago Initiative is a five-year fundraising drive to generate the capital necessary for the University to continue its mission while improving areas like student life and interdisciplinary research.

Though the University has been successful in soliciting gifts from outside sources, it has a much lower rate of alumni giving than other major research universities. One of the objectives of the capital campaign and the student committee is to improve that rate through recasting the University’s image.

“Our goal is to try to install a culture of giving so that students have a feeling of philanthropy after they leave,” said Jesse Ehrenfeld, a student in the medical school and on the steering committee.

During last year’s launch, students were offered free shakes at the C-Shop to promote the campaign.

“We didn’t want to repeat Shake Day,” Gomez said. “We wanted something that involved students more.”

In discussing the University’s image, Bill Michel said that one of the Initiative’s focuses has been to create an alumni pool more “continuous” with the campus community, an effort that is reflected through next week’s mural of future ideas. “It’s not about just this year, but rather where the University is going,” Michel said.

More candid in his thoughts on the University’s effort to reinvent itself was Chris Dorsey, a second-year Ph.D. candidate in the Divinity school and participant in the Initiative. “We’re trying to get rid of that image,” Dorsey said. “We’re trying to create a culture of giving.”

Alexander, involved closely with alumni relations, held that the strongest experiences graduates often have upon visiting the University are the conversations they share with students. These interactions often remind alumni of their Chicago experience and redoubling their commitment to the University.

“Our alumni and friends are very keen to talk with current students because they believe in the University’s mission,” Alexander said. “The discussions contributors have with students are almost always the strongest parts of these events. In the end those are the people they want to hear from-what is it about their experience that means the most to them.”