In 1972, as Scott Carson was preparing to graduate from Washington State University, a counselor told him he was still six credits shy of his degree. The Vietnam veteran was astonished. “He said I had to complete these physical education credits.”

Carson had already attended several semesters of community college, was married, had served his country, and had only budgeted for two years in Pullman to finish his business degree. That a handful of phys. ed. credits stood in the way of his degree seemed absurd.

But the counselor was unwavering. Carson took it to the department head, who insisted that it was a state requirement. He said the only thing Carson could do was try talking to President Glenn Terrell. “I said, ‘Who is President Terrell?,’” says Carson, offering this parting story at the end of our interview about the Washington State University Foundation’s fundraising campaign.

“So I went straight to the president’s house on College Hill and knocked on the front door,” he says. A woman answered. Carson asked to see the president. “Do you have an appointment?” she asked. Behind her, a voice said, “Who is it?” “It’s a student,” she replied. A tall lean Terrell appeared. Carson told him his story. “And,” he tells me, “he let me graduate.”

Decades later, when Carson was appointed CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, the phone rang. “It was Dr. Terrell saying he knew I’d turn out OK,” he says. “Can you believe he remembered?”

Carson has more than made up for the six credits he owes WSU. As the head of the University’s billion-dollar campaign, the Boeing retiree spends many of his days on WSU Foundation business.

Building a billion-dollar campaign was no simple matter. The process started on campus in 2006, when the departments and colleges at WSU were asked to create wish lists. They came up with meaty requests to fund scholarships, endowed chairs, and research initiatives. The result added up to well over $1 billion. Then the list was handed over to the University leaders as well as the WSU Board of Regents and the Trustees of the WSU Foundation. With the help of the Regents and volunteers, the Foundation and administration honed it down to what seemed most relevant to the needs of the state and the University. And to a goal of $1 billion, which was announced to the public last December.

The revised plan not only shows the University’s priorities, but where the University and its volunteers believe Washington is headed, says Carson. Many key volunteers are helping guide it. Hotelier Larry Culver, for example, has a focus on the hospitality school, Jeff Gordon of Gordon Brothers Winery is heading the viticulture steering board, and Seattle TV journalist Kathi Goertzen has been a strong advocate for supporting students, to name just a few.

“One of the things the campaign is going to let us do, is to see the totality of the school,” says Carson. “Even in Pullman, people don’t see the whole thing.” Take the Vancouver and Tri-Cities campuses, he says. Without WSU, you have communities of students, many of them working jobs and supporting families, who wouldn’t otherwise have access to a four-year university. Then again, you have the unique connection with a national laboratory with WSU Tri-Cities’ ties to the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, says Carson.

And there’s the campus in Spokane, which in its collaboration with other schools including Spokane’s community colleges, the University of Washington, and Eastern Washington University, creates a strong academic community, he says.

The fundraising can be broken down into some major categories spread among campuses and colleges. The College of Agriculture seeks $190 million, a large portion ($96 million) of which goes toward developing sustainable food systems. The College of Engineering and Architecture wants $125 million to fulfill priorities including sustainable energy and design and engineering for health. “We’re way behind the world in terms of the sustainable push,” says Carson of the country. That WSU has embraced this expertise is laudable, he says, “But we’re coming at it so slowly.”

The College of Veterinary Medicine seeks $133.3 million, about half of which would go to addressing global infectious disease, another issue Carson and many of his business cohorts have realized affects not only our region’s health and food systems, but also our business interactions. WSU’s newest college, the Murrow College of Communication, has a $46 million goal, part of which is pushing beyond print and broadcast to the fast-changing world of digital media.

Other campus programs include $24 million for a new WSU Museum of Art, $4 million for the libraries, and $15 million for training health care professionals at WSU Spokane.

One of the keys to the campaign is to find ways donors can connect what is important to them to what is happening at the University, says Carson. He couldn’t help tying his own experiences to the needs of the school. It started years ago, when he was volunteering with the College of Business and two of his sisters died, leaving children. The experience prompted Carson and his wife Linda to donate $100,000 for a scholarship fund for students who had lost a parent before graduating high school.

Since then, there have been many areas of Carson’s life where his experiences have touched back to possibilities on campus. The Carsons invested in a professional development center to help the College of Business provide guidance and real-world experiences to create a “polished” graduate ready to enter the professional business world.

And “as I traveled overseas I thought ‘It is a pity how poorly prepared Americans are to do business overseas,’” says Carson, which led to creating scholarships for students to study business abroad.

In December when Washington State’s campaign moved into its public phase, it was over half-way to its goal with more than $532 million in pledges and gifts. “If we can raise that kind of money in the heart of the recession, as the economy starts to improve the opportunity for us to have the organization in place, the awareness in place, it will make the goals of the campaign a much less overwhelming task,” says Carson.

On the web

For more about the campaign and to give, visit foundation.wsu.edu.