Impact of record gift total lauded as trustees see year-end reports

Contact: Cheryl Roland

KALAMAZOO—Gifts to Western Michigan University during the 2012-13 fiscal year surpassed $64 million, as private donors supported the University at record levels, the WMU Board of Trustees learned at its July 18 meeting.

During the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, nearly 22,000 private donors chose to support WMU with $64,871,813 in cash gifts and pledges. The 21,944 private donors who made gifts last year included 10,996 alumni, 629 corporations and 84 foundations, as well as 10,169 private individuals and 66 other organizations. The year-end gift figures were reported as part of a series of reports trustees received at their formal public meeting.

Gifts to every part of the University, including its new School of Medicine, were reflected in the figures. And with nearly 75,000 individual gifts recorded, many donors made multiple gifts.

"There's not a corner of the University that has not been made stronger and more vibrant by the generosity of our donors," says WMU President John M. Dunn. "They have strengthened student access; increased campus life options available to our students; and provided our faculty, staff and students with the tools and resources they need for discovery and public service. We are enormously grateful for each and every gift."

One of the significant outcomes of the increase in gifts is a series of new scholarship opportunities for students. Gifts for student financial support increased by 58 percent in 2012-13 compared with the previous year's total in that category. Some 29 new endowed scholarships were set up, many by alumni eager to "pay it forward" by offering current and future generations of students access to the same level of instruction they enjoyed.

"One of our alumni and his wife, Dr. and Mrs. Hashem Akhavan-Tafti, set up three endowed scholarships for precisely that reason," says Jim Thomas, WMU vice president for development and alumni relations. "Those three scholarships are named for two chemistry professors—emeriti Donald Berndt and Robert Nagler—and the late John Orr, who was an English professor. All of them had a profound impact on Dr. Akhavan-Tafti's academic and professional development. He wanted to ensure other students enjoyed that same kind of opportunity to be mentored by outstanding faculty members."

Akhavan-Tafti, who earned a master's degree in chemistry from WMU, is today vice president of research for Beckman Coulter’s immunoassay and molecular diagnostics business group in Southfield, Mich.

Another major infusion of scholarship dollars came from alumni around the world who chose to honor the late Dr. Michitoshi Soga by making scholarship donations in his name. Many of those gifts came from generations of Japanese students who were welcomed into the Soga home during their years at WMU. Soga, who died in March, worked tirelessly during his decades at the University to strengthen ties with Japan. WMU's Soga Japan Center is named for him.

Students yet to begin their studies at the new WMU School of Medicine will reap the benefits of both scholarship opportunities and the chance to learn from world-class visiting professors, thanks to a series of gifts from Kalamazoo's James R. Ryan Foundation. One scholarship fund and two visiting professor funds will be established through three Ryan family gifts. Dr. James R. Ryan was an orthopedic oncologist who practiced in the Kalamazoo area. His nephew and his nephew's wife, Dr. Thomas and Mrs. Debra Ryan, are WMU alumni, and Thomas Ryan also is an orthopedic surgeon.

Additional gifts to the University addressed a wide range of campus and community needs, says Thomas. They include very visible items like enhancements to the Seelye Center and Waldo Stadium, new pianos that helped the University meet its goal of becoming an All-Steinway School, artwork commissioned for Sangren Hall and the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and support for science programs that serve West Michigan children.

"Our donors also have generously supported less visible but incredibly important initiatives like research on cochlear implants and Multiple System Atrophy as well as work aimed at improving community sustainability," Thomas says. "Gifts of every size and from every donor are being leveraged across this campus to produce results that will have an impact for years to come—not just on our students but on the communities we serve. I can't say enough about how important donor support is to every member of our campus community. We'll continue to look for ways to thank our donors and show them just what their gifts have allowed us to do."