Current, former, and retired employees donate millions to help their university excel
Alumni Distinguished Professor Professor of Psychology Scott Geller has brought millions in research funding to Virginia Tech. He’s mentored hundreds of students, founded a research center, delivered a keynote address at commencement, and won just about every honor the university gives its faculty.
So it’s probably safe to say that through his hard work Geller has done more than his fair share for his field, his university, and his students. But he doesn’t see it that way.
Geller is not just an outstanding researcher and teacher; he’s also a major donor to Virginia Tech. By contributing to the Center for Applied Behavior Systems within the Department of Psychology in the College of Science, he helps to employ postdoctoral researchers and send students to research conferences. And Geller recently created the Actively Caring for People Scholarship to provide $4,500 each semester to a student with financial need and a strong desire to make the world a more caring place.
Geller said he was inspired to create the scholarship by his undergraduate students and members of the student government association who have been working with him on a project to promote a more caring atmosphere on campus and in the world at large.
“When you see a student’s eyes light up and they come up after a class and say, ‘You made my day,’ that is so intrinsically rewarding,” said Geller, a resident of Newport, Va. “You get enough of that and you start to say, ‘You know, I’m going to give something back.’ Maybe that’s where the motive for all this comes from for me – I want to give something back [to students] because of what they’ve given me for 40 years.”
A major asset
Geller is one of many current, former, or retired employees of Virginia Tech who view the university as both a fulfilling place to work and a worthy cause to which to donate. Their support is a major asset for an institution in the latter stages of its first billion-dollar fundraising campaign.
Between the July 1, 2003, start of The Campaign for Virginia Tech: Invent the Future and Dec. 31, 2009, current, former, and retired faculty and staff donated or pledged more than $56.6 million.
Vice President for Development and University Relations Elizabeth “Betsy” Flanagan says that while those financial contributions are certainly valued, campaign participation by faculty and staff also “represents an important show of support for the direction the university is going.”
Among those employees who have contributed is Tom Tucker, of Radford, Va., who is both an employee and an alumnus. Tucker earned his bachelor’s in architecture in 1984, has worked for the university since 1986, and now is an architectural planner for Facilities Information Systems, part of University Planning Design and Construction Services. He regularly donates to alumni programs, the Employees’ Spouse and Dependent Scholarship Fund, and the Presidential Dependent Scholarship Endowment.
Tucker says he learned about the scholarship funds while serving on the Staff Senate and thought they were important to support.
“It’s already a great scholarship that helps people every year,” says Tucker, who became Staff Senate president in July 2008. “However, if we can grow the scholarship and make it even larger, it could become a real tool for recruiting and the retention of employees.”
Tucker donates a portion of his salary each pay period to those causes at the university that appeal to him. As Staff Senate president, he has urged others to also support the Employee’s Spouse and Dependent Scholarship Program.
“I think it’s important for the dependents of or people who’ve served Virginia Tech to have the opportunity to attend the university,” he says.
A love for animals
Karen Johnson says the decision to include Virginia Tech in her estate plans was rooted in the love she and her husband Glenn, a retired agronomist who worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, have for animals.
The Pulaski, Va., couple worked with the university’s Office of Gift Planning to establish a fund that, one day, will cover the treatment of adoptable stray animals at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine’s teaching hospital.
Johnson already does a lot to help animals through her job as a technician in the specialty medicine ward for small animals at the teaching hospital. She and her husband have adopted five animals that were either abandoned or given up by their owners – including Denali, a black Labrador retriever whose right front leg was amputated at the teaching hospital.
And because of Johnson’s generosity, many years from now other animals will be healed and placed with loving owners, just as Denali was. It will be a fitting legacy for Johnson, who says she and her husband “feel the college is doing a great thing here at the hospital.”
Whether it is caring for animals, making important discoveries, or training the next generation of leaders, Virginia Tech does many great things. People like Johnson, Geller, and Tucker – who give so much of themselves to the institution – help to make that possible.
- For more information on this topic, contact Albert Raboteau at (540) 231-2844.
As of Dec. 31, 2009, the university had raised $891.2 million toward the $1 billion goal of The Campaign for Virginia Tech: Invent the Future.
An important part of giving societies
Especially generous supporters of Virginia Tech are welcomed into the Ut Prosim and Caldwell giving societies each year. Seventy-four members of the Ut Prosim Society either work or worked here, as is the case for 52 members of the Caldwell Society, including Virginia Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine Professor Marion Ehrich, who created the Fielder Scholarship for Students from Rural Areas in her parents’ honor.
“Virginia Tech has been good to me, and I appreciate that,” Ehrich says. “Also, I was helped by scholarships – this is a way to pay back by paying forward.”
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