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Alumna's gift will extend reach of School of Communication

Dec. 11, 2008

KALAMAZOO--Appreciation for lifelong listening and speaking skills garnered in college classes 40 years ago has led a Western Michigan University alumna to make a $1 million commitment to the University's School of Communication.

The anonymous donor, a 1970 WMU alumna, recently finalized an estate gift that designates $1 million to WMU. Half of the gift will be used to establish an endowed visiting lectureship and the other half will go to fund an endowed professorship, both in WMU's celebrated School of Communication.

According to Dr. Steven Rhodes, director of the School of Communication, the donor recently re-established close contact with the school after receiving copies of the school's e-newsletter. Rhodes says that after initial contact, he and the alumna had numerous delightful conversations that led to her decision to make the gift and to her specific instructions for its use.

"This alumna remembered that in her public speaking classes, students were required to attend campus speeches and critique the speakers," Rhodes says. "That exercise had a tremendous impact and value to her for developing and refining her own speaking style. Her gift will allow us to begin a prestigious lecture series that future students can attend, hear ideas expressed by distinguished presenters and witness models of excellence in oral presentation."

Rhodes says the donor, whose career has been in academia, sees both the lectureship and the endowed professorship as tools that will enhance the school's academic offerings. Funds generated by the endowments will be used for two major lectures each academic year and to support additional guest speakers.

"Being able to support what she sees as an excellent faculty by creating an endowed professorship was very important to her," Rhodes says. "Equally important was creating a gift that enhanced our academic programs--hence her endowed visiting lectureship."

The endowed professorship funded by the other half of her gift will recognize the scholarly achievement of a tenure-track faculty member in the school who holds the rank of associate professor or higher. Funds generated will provide supplemental support that can be used to augment the recipient's salary and help fund professional travel, staff support and the acquisition of teaching or research materials that will support the faculty member's scholarly work. Once awarded the endowed professorship, a faculty member may hold the position for no more than two successive years but can be named to the post more than once.

Rhodes notes that the two parts of the gift will be connected, with the named professor having responsibility for administering the lectureship funding.

This is the second $1 million gift to the School of Communication in the past year. The school will receive 20 percent of an anonymous $5 million bequest announced late in 2007. That gift, which also will be administered after the donor's death, is intended to boost ongoing faculty recruitment and retention efforts.

"As I have said to my faculty, they all share in these successes. Without the ability to talk about our good faculty, programs, students, alumni and our external board, it would be difficult for me to respond to prospective donors when the opportunities present themselves," Rhodes notes.

WMU's School of Communication provides educational opportunities to more than 1,100 undergraduate majors, 400 minors, and 100 graduate students, making it one of the largest academic units at WMU. In addition, the school supports active research programs in interpersonal communication, film, media, organizational communication, information technologies and telecommunications. The school traces its roots back to courses first offered in 1906.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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