Now in growth mode, the university makes a compelling case for broader, deeper alumni support
Ronald Reagan is sworn in as president; Mikhail Gorbachev is named the new Soviet premier. “We Are the World” debuts with fanfare, but it’s Madonna who dominates the pop charts.
This is what life looked like in 1985, the last time Oglethorpe University embarked on a major fundraising campaign.
Now fast-forward more than a quarter century, to another moment in time: fall 2013.
First-year enrollment at Oglethorpe is more robust than ever, a clear sign that more young people are hearing about this liberal arts and sciences jewel in an international city. A glorious new campus center is open and bustling. The number of students living on campus is at record levels. A new paradigm for experiential learning, the A-Lab, is launched to enrich the Oglethorpe education.
Something else is happening at this moment. A sense that Oglethorpe has turned the proverbial corner pervades. Plans to guide the university to the year 2020 render a picture that is equally expansive and sharp. “Oglethorpe’s direction is clear,” says President Lawrence Schall. “Our work is now centered on growing, rather than sustaining. Simply put, this is our time.”
It’s in this context that Oglethorpe announces a comprehensive effort to build broader, deeper support for its future—a fundraising campaign themed “Our Time.”
The Our Time campaign’s concept is simple: Leverage Oglethorpe’s momentum to invent its future. The past few years have brought a string of milestones and accomplishments, as well as a new vision and action agenda to create the Oglethorpe of tomorrow. Crafted to preserve the university’s inherent strengths while expanding its impact, the strategic plan of 2010 laid out the steps Oglethorpe would take to better define itself and raise its profile in higher education.
It also gave shape to four areas of need—student learning, faculty initiatives, campus facilities and the annual fund—that represent the focus of the new comprehensive campaign.
“These four areas are interconnected,” emphasizes Belle Turner Lynch ’61, the Oglethorpe trustee who co-chairs the campaign. “Collectively, they will help us forge a stronger identity for Oglethorpe as a premier liberal arts and sciences university uniquely located in the heart of an international city. There’s no other university quite like it. Our aim now is to become even better at what we do—and better known for it.”
The dawn of 2011 brought the comprehensive campaign’s “silent phase,” a period in which the university quietly approached individuals and organizations that had an abiding interest in building a stronger Oglethorpe. To say that the response was positive is an understatement. “We could not have imagined a more successful start to the campaign,” says Kevin Smyrl, vice president for alumni relations and development.
He recites some of the evidence: 100 percent participation from trustees, who contributed a total of $10 million to help build the new campus center. Another $5 million award from a major foundation for the center, the largest single gift in the university’s history. A $1 million grant from the Coca-Cola Foundation to fund student scholarships. A record $2 million gift from Donald ’56 and Shelley Rubin to support the arts.
These initial gifts and others have propelled Oglethorpe more than three-quarters of the way to its campaign goal of $50 million. “Building that solid base of support at the outset was crucial,” Smyrl says. “It signals a strong vote of confidence in the university and its direction. Now, as we begin to make our case to the broader alumni base, Oglethorpe graduates can see how some very influential people believe in Oglethorpe’s brand of higher education.”
While the goal of Oglethorpe’s first campaign in nearly three decades is to raise funds, the university views the occasion as something larger. “It’s really an opportunity for Oglethorpe to re-connect and re-engage those who lived in our halls, studied in our library, and developed lifelong friendships on our campus quad,” President Schall says. “Oglethorpe is a special place because people have made it so. We know we need to involve our alumni in their alma mater beyond making for a gift, but a gift of some size each and every year is critical for our future.”
Following the campaign’s official kick-off on October 24, 2013, there will be a series of special events in cities across the country to update graduates about the university’s momentum and future. New communications and other events are also in the works to ensure that “Our Time” is itself a time to celebrate the university and the mark it has left on generations of students.
There is no question that the time I spent at Oglethorpe helped to define who I am today,” says Joselyn Baker ’91. “I arrived not really knowing anyone and left with not only the incredible knowledge and skills imparted by the faculty, but with personal relationships that I will always hold dear. That experience is something for which I will always be grateful.”