WSU’s fundraising efforts reach a lofty goal

WSU student Selena Alvarado is heading to Costa Rica, but it isn’t for a vacation. As part of the Backpack Journalism program in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, she will investigate issues that face Costa Ricans, then send back videos and print stories for Pacific Northwest media outlets. The hands-on program wouldn’t exist without scholarships and support from a number of donors.

At the WSU Tree Fruit Research Station in Wenatchee, apple breeder Kate Evans and her research team identify traits that can improve Washington’s signature fruit. Using genetic markers and research orchards, they seek an apple that tastes great and keeps well. Evans’s research will move forward with help from a historic $27 million gift from the Washington tree fruit industry.

Alvarado’s on-the-ground training as a journalist and Evans’s apple research represent just two of many efforts made possible by the recently concluded Campaign for Washington State University: Because the World Needs Big Ideas. The campaign brought in over $1.06 billion, which will make a significant difference in student success, research, and WSU’s ability to serve the state. Just as impressive is the number of donors: 206,259 donors made over 800,000 contributions.

The sheer size of a billion dollars can seem overwhelming. Scott Carson ’72, a retired Boeing CEO and WSU regent, described it physically: “If you laid every dollar end to end, it would stretch around the world four times.”

More importantly, he says, every dollar given to the University improves the ability for WSU to meet its land-grant mission of student access, service, and research.

Carson headed up the fundraising effort—the largest comprehensive capital campaign in WSU history—since its start in 2006. At the outset, the University’s academic leaders put together a wish list of scholarships, research initiatives, and endowed professorships, which were then distilled to the most relevant needs for the state and WSU.

President Elson S. Floyd gets the credit for setting a high target, says John Gardner, vice president for development. “He determined within his first couple of months that, despite objections, the goal was a billion,” says Gardner. Floyd’s enthusiasm, and his personal efforts, for the campaign continued until his untimely death in June.

So what does a billion dollars bring to WSU, students, faculty, and supporters?

For students, the money will fund scholarships, for example, to train new medical professionals, students with working families, and backpack journalists. In research, it will go toward developing sustainable food systems, investigating biofuels, addressing global infectious diseases, and more. On all the WSU campuses, part of the money will build labs, classrooms, even a new WSU Museum of Art.

The campaign concluded successfully on June 30, 2015. It culminated in a September 2015 event on Terrell Mall in Pullman, as students, faculty, alumni, and University leaders gathered for a barbecue and a chance to celebrate a significant milestone for the future of WSU.