A Mission of Giving Back

With the resurgence of the annual Senior Class Gift, philanthropy continues to thrive at WPI
December 05, 2012

Image removed.

When Gregory Moore '13 arrived at WPI in 2009, he already had an extensive history of community service.

While he acknowledges the initial goal was to boost his resume for college admissions, once at WPI he saw myriad volunteer opportunities that would allow him to make a real difference. "I realized I wanted to help kids who need a little push to go to college," says Moore, who won the 2012 Edwin B. Coghlin '23 Award for tutoring high school students. "Everyone can find something that they can get involved with at WPI."

Whether it's volunteering with students like Moore, or donating to the Senior Class Gift, WPI students embrace the notion that becoming involved is an integral ingredient of their undergraduate experience.

To director of student activities Emily Perlow, it’s not an accident.

"The type of student who decides to attend WPI is attracted to our mission of giving back," Perlow notes, "so in many ways, they already have a community service mindset before they set foot on campus."

Each year, WPI students report volunteering between 3,200 and 4,000 times on their own—and this doesn't count their participation in the school's Community Service Work Study program. During the 2011–12 academic year, students worked almost 32,000 hours—including 19,000 by fraternity and sorority members—a 60 percent increase from 2006–07.

It's not just time that’s donated. Last year, students raised more than $73,000 participating in such events as the Central Massachusetts Arthritis Walk, Step Out Walk to Fight Diabetes, and Relay For Life, WPI's signature community service event to benefit cancer research and awareness. That brought to more than $500,000 monies raised over the past six years.

Image removed.

The WPI community has benefitted from the resurgence of the annual Senior Class Gift. Begun in 1901 when a flight of 12 stairs was created in front of Boynton Hall and dedicated to Dean Zelotes Coombs, graduating classes for decades have raised funds to help fund or create projects that most students walk past on a daily basis with no knowledge of their historical origins.

The original electronic scoreboard in Alumni Gym (1935), the mural in Morgan Hall (1957), and a trophy case on Salisbury Street (1975) were among the items funded during the 20th century.

But after the 1983 gift to upgrade the carillon in Alden Memorial was financed, the program went silent. By the turn of the new century, it had become a forgotten tradition.

That's when longtime WPI trustee Win Priem '59 took notice.

"I had learned that another area school's senior class gift was more than $10,000 in 2002, and at WPI it was $800," recalls Priem, now trustee emeritus. "Here we had 700 students who would be going on to successful careers because of their WPI education, and I thought it was important to get them in the giving philosophy before they graduated."

The former president and CEO of the world's largest executive placement firm, Korn/Ferry International, Priem declared in 2002 that he would match up to $15,000 raised for the Senior Class Gift. But there was a catch: at least 40 percent of graduating students would need to participate to trigger the match.

Students have risen to the challenge, as all but one of the past 10 classes has successfully reached the goal, including the past two years in which the maximum match has been achieved.

Priem says he hopes this renewed philanthropy spurs alumni giving to the school's largest capital fundraising campaign in its history. If…The Campaign to Advance WPI is expected to generate $200 million by 2015, the school's sesquicentennial year.

Recent senior class gifts include a new barbecue area behind the Campus Center in 2010; the restoration of a reflecting pool in a Higgins House garden in 2011, in memory of student Jonathan Rowell '11 who passed away during his senior year; and last year's patio renovation in front of Gordon Library. The gift that has resonated most is the 2009 Proud Goat statue on the Quad side of Bartlett Center—it quickly became a popular campus icon.

Such an impressive list doesn’t faze Nick Teceno '13. A member of the Senior Class Gift organizing committee. He says the group already is considering ideas that incorporate an element of the school's engineering prowess into something that can be used regularly.

"Ultimately, we want to leave our mark on WPI because, while the school will change over the years, the senior gift is always going to be there," Teceno says. "When we come back to WPI with our families, we want to be able to say, 'This is the legacy my class left.' And that will be a great feeling!"

Learn more about student giving here.