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Advancement News

A Campaign for the Next 100 Years

Posted Nov. 2, 2009
The history of Kent State University began with a gift — and not a small one, at that. In the early part of the 20th century, state officials were searching for the location for a new normal school for educating teachers, and resident William S. Kent sweetened the city of Kent's bid with an offer to donate nearly 53 acres to the cause. When Kent was selected in November 1910, that $15,000 gift of land was among the deciding factors.

Nearly 100 years later, philanthropy — through the Centennial Campaign — will be the foundation for the next century, says Gene Finn, vice president for institutional advancement.

"Campaigns give institutions the opportunity to advance some of their critical needs, and this campaign is no different," he says. "The fact that it corresponds with our Centennial celebration is an opportunity most universities don't get."

Among Kent State's critical needs at the start of its second century: building its endowment, providing resources for capital renovations and expansions, and developing immediate support through current operating funds. All told, the campaign's goal is to reach $250 million by 2012: $75 million for endowment, $75 million for capital projects and $100 million for current operating needs.

"The economic reality is that state funding is going to wane in the coming years," Finn says. "We have to build a culture of philanthropy not only in our alumni, but in our students, faculty and staff. That culture of philanthropy is the hallmark of all great universities."

With nearly $160 million in commitments already made, the campaign's several-year quiet phase has been a resounding success, Finn says.

"We conducted a feasibility study that told us we could comfortably raise $200 million," he explains. "But with the alumni, friends and foundations who have stepped up to the plate so far and the enthusiasm we're seeing across the country, we'll be able to achieve $250 million."

A large portion of the campaign's focus is on increasing the number of privately funded student scholarships.

"The university's No. 1 priority must be our student body, and creating opportunities for bright students to come — and stay — at Kent State," President Lester A. Lefton says. "Providing scholarships is key to that."

That's been Dr. Lefton's message as he's traveled across the country to alumni events, from Ohio to Florida, Massachusetts to California.

"Alumni are responding to it," he continues, "because it resonates with them."

Among contributions during the Centennial Campaign's quiet phase have been the three largest gifts in the university's history. Cil ('58) and the late Max ('59) Draime have given their estate property, along with an endowment to support it as an interdisciplinary research and educational site, as part of Kent State's largest gift to date.

Alumna Roe Green ('80) has made the biggest capital gift in university history with a $6.5 million contribution to fund a collaborative arts facility: the Roe Green Center for the School of Theatre and Dance. And Appropriate Technology, a regional software and hardware company, has given $13.5 million in software licenses to the College of Technology — Kent State's largest gift-in-kind — that will give students a career boost by allowing them to learn experientially on the same technology used in industry.

"The vast majority of our major donors have identified causes that are close to their heart and are leading through their giving," Lefton says. "And I am delighted by the remarkable response of our volunteer university leadership. Our foundation board of directors, alumni association national board of directors, and university trustees are the key to this and all of our endeavors."

One of those leaders is Ron Pizzuti, foundation board member and chair of the Centennial Campaign. The 1962 alumnus of the College of Business Administration spent his formative years in the Kent area, including attending Roosevelt High School. For those reasons, the Columbus-based developer has an interest in both the university and its surrounding region.

His gift to the campaign is designed to strengthen the relationship between the university and city of Kent — and to show his support of Kent State's current direction.

"I've been returning to the Kent area for nearly half a century," he says. "I've seen great strides, as well as missed opportunities. The Centennial Campaign is our chance to build a vibrant and dynamic community with long-lasting benefits for the city and campus alike."

As campaign chair, he brings an additional goal: to engage as many alumni, friends, faculty and staff as possible, in order to develop that culture of philanthropy.

"This is a comprehensive campaign; everyone will have the opportunity to be a part of it, and be a part at the level they're capable of doing," Pizzuti says. "They can participate through the Annual Fund. They can participate by endowing a fund or through a planned gift. They can participate by giving to the program or department that's a part of their lifelong success.

"Ultimately, each person's contribution becomes their legacy for the next 100 years of Kent State University."

This story originally ran in the fall 2009 Kent State Magazine.