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The Importance of Fostering a Culture of Commitment

Philanthropy impacts students deeply

Monday Oct 13, 2014

"Knowing that you have some support, someone that says, ‘Yes, I know school is hard but here is something to help financially,’ that is very important."

- Rana Torabi

It is a challenging and important task to keep scholarships funded and flowing to deserving students. Making sure the University programs that enrich students’ educations are supported is equally important, and universities depend heavily on the philanthropic support of friends of the University.

Indiana University Northwest’s Office of University Advancement and External Affairs (UAEA) continually strives to educate the campus community about not only the importance of giving back, but also the incredible impact that support can have on a student.

Successful institutions don’t only have donors, they have something more. They work in an environment that appreciates the idea of giving back at a level that is a notch above the rest. Paying it forward is a way of life, something everyone at every level of the University does. They live within a culture that fosters a philanthropic commitment to their University.

IU Northwest is proud to say that individuals with that kind of attitude, that kind of commitment, walk our campus grounds daily. Through their actions, they inspire others with their compassion and prompt others to act on their own giving spirit.

UAEA wanted to know exactly what drives our students, faculty and staff to be philanthropic. So we asked some of them to dig deep into their personal beliefs and help us understand why they give, why others should too, and most importantly, hear their personal stories behind their beliefs.

We spoke with Charles Gallmeier, Ph.D., Chancellor’s Professor of Sociology and Faculty Organization President; Rana Torabi, a senior psychology major and president of the Student Alumni Association (SAA); and Myriam Young, IU Northwest’s webmaster.

The candid conversation unveiled insights into the responsibility of giving back and the importance of giving in ways many of us may not have thought of before.

*  *  *

UAEA:  Do you remember when you first decided to be philanthropic? What cause did you support and why?

Chuck: IU Northwest’s Swing Shift College was a magnificent IU Northwest program that lasted about 10 years. In fact, I was the first person to be recruited by Emeritus Professor of Labor Studies Ruth Needleman, Ph.D. to teach it. These were students who had gone straight from high school to the steel mills. The mills picked up half the tab and the unions picked up half. The classes were taught at their worksite. Later, the idea came about to get them out of the mills and get them integrated to classes on campus. Then, it became available to non-steel workers, students who needed the flexibility the program offered.

The vast majority of them were some of the best students I have ever taught in my life. It was fantastic because you had the experience of the steelworkers and these young people whose lives were so different. The debates and discussions were amazing and everybody learned. It was one of the greatest learning communities I’d ever seen and I got to be a part of it. When I saw what the mills and unions and institutions did by coming together to increase higher education for all, I thought I needed to spend some money on this and so I did. This is something I felt needed to stay alive.

Myriam: My family sponsors a little girl in Guatemala, the Smile Train Foundation and IU Northwest. I give to these causes because I have witnessed the need that exists in the world. I grew up in Mexico City where there is a lot of poverty. You can't ignore it; there are people who need help everywhere in the world.

Rana: It’s easy to get caught up in the motions and not really be aware of your actions. This attitude really described me during my younger years. However, things seemed to turn around for me when I learned about this disease called cystic fibrosis during my senior year of high school. I was part of a club that was dedicated towards volunteer activities around the community. Together, we decided to try and get our school involved to help raise funds for cystic fibrosis research. This was really the first time I actually took a proactive role in trying to make a difference in my community. We set up a field day where we had raffles, a pie-eating contest, and other fun games designed to get our whole school involved.

UAEA: So Chuck, you wanted to contribute to ensure individuals with limited opportunity and resources could continue to learn?

Chuck: Absolutely. There are few things more important than higher education. And, so many people don’t have access to it. If I can help by contributing to scholarships or in any other way to make sure that our society becomes more equal and that the wealth is distributed, that is a worthwhile cause to support.

UAEA: And, Myriam, you’ve recognized many levels of need in different populations. Would you say your philanthropic goals are to expand your reach and impact?

Myriam: Yes, there are many levels and type of need and not all of them are monetary either. I believe it is important to give and pay forward. By helping others to achieve a better life, it helps our community, the region and beyond. It really has a ripple effect.

UAEA: Rana, did you feel your high school fundraiser made a difference?

Rana: I don’t remember how much money we raised but we did send a big check … it was just amazing. They even sent us a hand written letter saying ‘thank you.’ … It really made me want to go out and do more of these types of activities.

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UAEA: I know that you all tend to favor giving back to higher education, as do all of us who work and learn at this University, but would you talk about why we should we all give back to our communities?

Chuck: Because we are all part of the human experience, and we have to get beyond just thinking about our own lives and ourselves. I suppose it is the sociologist in me talking, but if we don’t all try to figure this stuff out together and bring our strengths and our knowledge and talents into some kind of group form, we are not going to succeed. We can’t just live our lives with the idea that it’s all about my own success. We have to live our lives like it is our city’s success, our University’s success, our neighborhood’s success, our nation’s success.

*  *  *

UAEA: Have you ever been personally affected by someone else’s philanthropy?

Myriam: In my last year of college in Mexico City, there was a project between my school and the College of Architecture, Design and the Arts at the University of Illinois in Chicago. As part of this exchange project, I received an internship, given by UIC, at a Graphic Design studio in Chicago. They paid for my travel expenses and accommodations.

UAEA: What a great opportunity Myriam. How did that experience impact you as a student?

Myriam: It was an amazing experience that allowed me to have another perspective of the world, and really sparked my desire, not only to grow in my career, but also pay it forward so someone else can have a similar experience some day.

*  *  *

UAEA: Rana, I see that you are a very involved student and that you hold a position of leadership among the student body. What kind of a difference would you like to make before you graduate?

Rana: Through my example, I hope I can inspire someone else to help others. I think philanthropy is kind of contagious and hopefully, all of a sudden, we can get this giant chain reaction to occur. I hope that my positive actions will inspire someone else to try and better their community, which might lead to another person to catch on with this philanthropic mentality. I think that is a very important humanistic quality that should never be lost.

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UAEA: When you consider all the ways one can give, where do you think the most impact can be made?

Rana: Scholarships are wonderful. They give students hope. It is very challenging, especially if you don’t live at home, to go to school full-time while also having to pay your bills. Knowing that you have some support, someone that says, ‘Yes, I know school is hard but here is something to help financially,’ that is very important. I have seen students moved to tears because they didn’t think they would get anything. The fact that they got like a $1,000 scholarship for the year just meant so much to them. Because of a scholarship, they knew they’d be able to spend more time studying and eventually go out into the world sooner to find a job and really better their lives.

*  *  *

UAEA: Why do you choose higher education as the beneficiary of your support?

Rana: There are many different avenues that do lead to success. Each and every one requires hard work, patience, and endurance to name a few. Those who choose to pursue higher education, they do it despite any economic barriers or social statuses. They do it because they know this is right and it’s something that is going to really benefit, not just the community, but our nation. It is that type of mentality that I really see in every one of my classmates. It might not always start out that way, but the more they learn, the more they really grasp how important knowledge is. Each one of my classmates has the potential to be a catalysis for a positive change in our world. To be able to work with like-minded individuals, it’s really a gift. Any way that you can help these students is really a great and noble cause.

Myriam: I have had the opportunity to interact and work with friendly and committed staff and faculty. I have also worked with several students, wonderful people with unique stories. For example, a student-athlete who is also a young father, passionate about web development and programming. A single mother, with courage and determination, who is studying computer science and fine arts. She has three kids. Both of them work several jobs to provide for their families and to accomplish their dream of a degree. I see in these students the importance of supporting higher education, so we can give these students the best college experience. It is our duty to help them in any way we can to achieve their goal.

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UAEA: What is it about our campus community that makes you proud to be associated with IU Northwest?

Rana: There is such a sense of family at IU Northwest. That is the beauty of attending a regional campus under the name of IU. We get that title of IU grads while we also reap the benefits of our local uniqueness. I really do appreciate that, and it is present throughout every inch of our campus.

Chuck: It’s definitely seeing students succeed, especially first-generation students. It’s one of the reasons that I vow to never miss Commencement. I tell my students that and I do that because I want them to see how important this is. I want them to be there and understand what it means to be a first-generation student to their families. That it isn’t just for them, it’s also for their families. It’s about families, the sacrifices they’ve made, and how many of them never could have the privilege of attending college.

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