Twenty two years ago, the university completed its first multimillion dollar fundraising campaign, which raised $118 million. That same year, officials created the Ut Prosim Society, made up of nearly 130 of the most generous households to the university.
Fast forward to the present. Virginia Tech is now looking to raise almost 10 times as much in its $1 billion Campaign for Virginia Tech: Invent the Future. And the Ut Prosim Society, which has grown tenfold, is playing a vital role.
At last count, Ut Prosim Society members were responsible for more than 45 percent of the nearly $651 million committed since the campaign’s quiet phase began in 2003. And, according to the Virginia Tech Foundation, if you included donations prior to the current campaign, Ut Prosim members had contributed more than $569 million as of the end of fiscal 2007 — nearly 60 percent of all giving to Virginia Tech as of that time.
At the society’s 22nd annual celebration, which took place in May 2008, 111 new members were inducted and 68 individuals who advanced to a higher giving level within the society were thanked. The society now includes 1,029 households. Households are invited to join after reaching $100,000 in cumulative lifetime giving to the university. They advance on reaching $250,000, $500,000, and $1 million in contributions.
Even more impressive than the growth in Ut Prosim Society membership has been the society’s impact. Members have contributed to more than 800 existing endowments and have created more than 400 new ones. Many scholarships and research funds that help students and professors to excel have been funded by society members. In some cases, a member’s philanthropy has literally changed campus.
The building construction program within the College of Architecture and Urban Studies was founded in 1947, but had never had its own building before Bishop-Favrao Hall, a 31,600-square-foot structure on Perry Street at the northern end of campus. Ut Prosim Society member Richard Bishop, a 1967 building construction graduate, gave the lead gift for the project. Private support made up the majority of the building’s funding package.
Elsewhere on campus, Latham Hall, which opened in 2006, is named for Ut Prosim Society members William and Elizabeth Latham. They made a $5 million gift to support research in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, which in many cases takes place in Latham Hall.
Ut Prosim Society members are also supporting student research like that done by Christine George, a Manassas, Va., native honored by USA Today as an All-USA College Academic First Team member.
Many Ut Prosim Society members say they fund scholarships to help others get a quality education. Mary Nolen Blackwood is such a member. She was the first in her family of seven children to attend college, and a scholarship helped her at Virginia Tech.
Now, the scholarship Blackwood endowed is giving a similar opportunity to others. One recipient, Rebekah Maddox, a Manassas, Va., native, in May 2008 became the first of her 15 siblings to graduate from a four-year institution.
“The money [donors] can give to somebody here can totally change their life,” Maddox has said. “It can inspire them to fulfill their dreams.”
Since its inception, the society has gathered each year to induct new members and celebrate the many accomplishments that members’ support made possible. But the Ut Prosim Society weekend is also a time to look forward toward what else can be done.
The society’s recent gathering was its first since the public phase of the Campaign for Virginia Tech: Invent the Future was launched in October 2007. Vice President for Development and University Relations Elizabeth A. Flanagan highlighted the forward-looking nature of the occasion.
“You have already made it possible for students and faculty to continue to excel,” she said. “You have already made it possible for researchers to dig deeper and discover more about challenges the world faces. And you have already helped spread knowledge, and influence, around the region, the nation, and the world. But there is so much more we can do.”
The society's name is Latin for "That I May Serve," which is also the university motto.
The Ut Prosim Society is one of four giving societies at Virginia Tech.
Ut Prosim Society members discuss their philanthropy.
Many Ut Prosim Society members are alumni, but not all.
Constance and Keith Cedras moved from Texas to just outside Blacksburg a few years ago with their ultimate retirement in mind. The variety of activities available because of Virginia Tech's proximity was a major draw, Constance Cedras said. She and her husband are major supporters of the university's Arts Initiative, which will bring a new performance hall and visual arts gallery to the upper quad of campus.
"We saw that as being beneficial to Blacksburg as well as the university, which in turn will benefit us and make our quality of life even better," Constance Cedras said.
James Turk Jr. grew up near Virginia Tech, in the city of Radford. Like many Southwest Virginia natives, Turk rooted for the Hokies as a child and still does. He and his wife Allison have endowed an athletic scholarship and supported facility improvements.
"I like the idea of giving students opportunities to come to an excellent university and receive a great education, along with playing sports for a great institution," Turk said. "What drew me to Tech was, of course, my ties to the community. I feel Virginia Tech gives so much back to Blacksburg and Southwest Virginia."
Friends of the university, such as the Cedrases and Turks, often cite Virginia Tech's important role in the region, nation, and world when explaining their support.
Look through previous Spotlight stories