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NMSU Foundation helps connect students with education funding

Sitting in the lobby of O'Donnell Hall on the New Mexico State University campus, senior Vanessa Mendez appreciates the journey that brought her there. As a first-generation college student and coming from a low-income family, college was not always a feasible option, even with assistance from the state-funded lottery scholarship.



The New Mexico State University College of Education hosts a scholarship reception for donors to connect with scholarship recipients. Many of the colleges and departments host receptions for students to thank the donors and for the donors to see the impact of their gifts. (NMSU Photo)

Stephen Wolslager, right, vice-president of the Wolslager Foundation, talks with scholarship recipient Colette Brunhoeber during a meet and greet at NMSU. (Photo by Gabriella Ferrari)

Mendez, however, would not let circumstance prevent her from a college education. After attending Dona Ana Community College for her associate's degree, she was awarded a scholarship to continue her studies at NMSU through a fund established at the NMSU Foundation by the Wolslager Foundation.

"My scholarship helped me pursue my dreams of a higher education," Mendez, a communication studies major, said. "It also allowed me to be involved in college rather than having to work two jobs."

Between a troubled economy and rising tuition rates, Mendez isn't alone in her struggle to afford college. That is why the NMSU Foundation serves to connect private gift funds with students at NMSU.

"We now have so many students who are need-based in our population, and the cost of education is rising faster than our wages," said Diane Calhoun, director of scholarship and stewardship for the NMSU Foundation. "The need for student support is very real."

Currently, there are 1,403 scholarship funds in the scholarship system. Calhoun estimates that between 2,500 and 3,000 undergraduate students across all NMSU campuses receive scholarships. Each year, the collective monetary awards total between $2.8 and 3 million, not including the state-funded scholarships.

"A gift to a scholarship fund sees a result and generally gets a personal thank you from the student whose life has been impacted with a story that makes all the difference," Calhoun said. "It becomes the kind of gift that donors are really attached to because they can see such a result."

"NMSU is made of these kids," said Barbara "Mother" Hubbard, one notable donor who spent 30 years managing the Pan American Center, "and that's why I give back - because I love my students."

Hubbard has cre┬Čated 14 endowments at NMSU, with her most recent endowment in honor of Jeff Dunham to be awarded this fall. Hubbard names her endowments after significant people in her life be it personally, professionally, financially or influentially.

"NMSU helped me get where I am today in the entertainment industry," Hubbard said, crediting NMSU President Emeritus Gerald Thomas who gave her the opportunity to promote the Pan American Center.

When a donor approaches the Foundation or the Foundation stewards a potential or previous donor, the donor has the option to give to the current-use fund or create an endowment that lives on in perpetuity.

Dennis Prescott, president of the NMSU Foundation and vice president for university advancement, said endowed scholarships are a unique way to not only create a legacy of one's own at NMSU, but provide perpetual funding for a student earning a degree. Endowments require a minimum investment that can be paid in installments for up to five years and are pooled with the Foundation's investment fund, with a portion of the earnings awarded annually to fund the scholarship and the remainder reinvested to continue funding in perpetuity.

One Aggie alumna and newspaper guru, Barbara Kerr Page, did not want a funeral or obituary when she passed away in 2011. But since she had spent her career mentoring young talent, her friends, coworkers and those she mentored chose to memorialize her legacy with the Barbara Kerr Page Endowment, said Tamara Shope, a selection committee member.

"We were so fortunate the Foundation wanted us to take ownership and pay tribute to her ... Barbara loved the idea of an endowment," Shope said. "She was interested in making good writers great and training others to become the best editors and reporters they could be. She was invested in so many people, and the endowment allows us to continue that legacy of investment in future generations."

The Page Scholarship illustrates how many donors can come together for a common endowment. Approximately 125 people from across 14 states have given amounts from $25 to $3,000 to create the endowment that funds the annual scholarship.

When a donor creates an endowment, he or she may identify the type of students they want to support. Such criteria can include major, geographic area, financial need, ancestry and many others. The Foundation does, however, analyze applicant pools to ensure it is open to enough students while serving the donor's intent.

Hubbard's new Jeff Dunham endowment, for instance, is for a theater major. Her previous endowments to NMSU include the Bob Hope Scholarship for veterans; Bill Cosby Scholarship for freshmen; Stevie Wonder, Ronnie Millsap, and Jose Feliciano Scholarship for the handicapped, among others.

Similarly, the Page scholarship is awarded to students who exemplify Page's spirit and what she loved about the industry, Shope said. Their passion for words, language and wit must be demonstrated in an essay, and preference is given to students who have real-world journalism experience or are exercising the craft in some form.

After applicant criteria, selection committee and selection process are defined, a scholarship enters the new Scholar Dollar$ portal where students can apply and administrators can track its funding, applicant pool and award history. With Scholar Dollar$, which launched for the 2010-2011 academic year, students can complete a single application for all scholarships available through the Foundation.

The system automatically identifies information NMSU already has on file, such as major, residency status, need-base, academic standing and GPA.

Calhoun says the new system increased applicant pools for scholarships, reduced clerical errors, and eliminated previous administrative steps such as verifying the accuracy of the student's information. It also provides the Foundation staff, donors and selection committees with vast amounts of data in spreadsheets they can analyze.

"We've really transformed the scholarship culture," Calhoun said.

Kelli Buchanan, a senior nursing major said the new application was better because it was one application with a single due date that allowed her to save and go back. She also liked that she could apply for all scholarships without having to find ones that applied to her such as her LaVerne Noyes scholarship, which is one of NMSU's oldest scholarships for decedents of World War I veterans.

"I didn't even know about the World War I scholarship until I received it," said Buchanan who responded to a question on her application and later provided proof with discharge papers.

In July, the Scholar Dollar$ portal received an upgrade to assist with communication after the scholarship has been awarded. It includes a place to upload thank you cards, attend virtual events, messaging function to increase the connection with donors and recipients.

Just as Page was a mentor to young journalists, Shope said, "It is our desire to meet each of the scholarship recipients."

"Meeting scholarship recipients gives you a feel for the type of student you reach and the type of challenges they face," said Stephen Wolslager, of the Wolslager Foundation. "They are inspirational, and it's remarkable to hear the adversities they have overcome. It is very gratifying."

The scholarship department at each of the colleges also do their best to organize functions to allow students to thank their donors. It was at a meet and greet event coordinated by the Foundation that Wolslager was able to meet some of his scholarship recipients.

"How do you honestly thank someone for helping you go to college?" senior Cynthia Garibay said of preparing to meet him.

Garibay said that had it not been for the Scholar Dollar$ application, she would have never known about the Wolslager scholarship and that any financial aid always helps.

"The Wolslager scholarship made it so I didn't have to stop my education at Dona Ana Community College," Garibay said. She is studying family and child sciences.

Students can apply for scholarships, view award notifications and accept scholarships on the Scholar Dollar$ website at www.scholarships.nmsu.edu. Scholarship applications are due March 1 for the upcoming academic year.