College Matters | Giving the gift of education

This article was originally posted in the College Matters column of the Times-Standard.

Thursday, September 15, 2022 - 3:45pm

At Cal Poly Humboldt, we often talk about being in the dream business. And for many of us at Cal Poly Humboldt, that’s a very personal statement.

We see students chasing their dreams every day, and in these students we often see ourselves. For example, each of us — Tom and Frank — went off to college with the very clear idea of building better lives for ourselves and our families. It’s the same for hundreds of our faculty and staff as well as members of the president’s leadership team, which includes individuals who were first-generation college students, who came from underrepresented backgrounds, or who came from low-income families.

We know how precarious things can be for college students. Many before us have been there. Finishing college is not a given, and financial barriers are a primary challenge.

In college, we both received donor-funded scholarships as well as government financial aid that helped us through. For Tom, an important scholarship was from the Salvation Army. For Frank, there was the Gerth Scholarship among others.

Today, one of the things we enjoy most is thanking those individuals who support our students and campus programs. Writing letters or making phone calls to express gratitude to our donors is a real privilege, and it can often be very emotional.

It might surprise you to know what an impact the donation makes on the donor themselves. Many of our donors are alumni, and like most of our students today, they don’t tend to come from wealthy backgrounds. They worked their way through college. Certainly nothing was guaranteed as they finished their degrees and launched into careers and businesses. This has been true for nearly all graduates over many decades.

So when one of our donors makes that gift — of any amount — they’re so proud. They’ve done something to give back, to leave a legacy, to invest in the future, to use their own good fortune to help others. It’s very meaningful to them. When a donor makes a gift that they really had to stretch to afford, it can be magical. There’s often an inspiring story behind these gifts or someone they are seeking to honor, such as a family member or favorite professor.

It’s not unusual to call a donor to thank them only to have them insist on thanking us. The act of giving can be that impactful.

In recent years, Humboldt donors have rallied around the students and campus as never before. Many individuals gave to funds that supported students during the pandemic. Others have been inspired by the vision and growth of the campus, with charitable giving in the last year reaching a record $14.2 million. Many of our leading donors have also stepped up as volunteers to encourage others to give.

Next month, we will celebrate these important individuals with a Donor Appreciation Week starting Oct. 24. Among the activities will be an event on the campus quad as well as dinner at the Ingomar Club in Eureka, where we will raise funds for the Humboldt First Scholarship and also celebrate a very important milestone.

To all of you who give in support of Humboldt, thank you! We hope you understand how very important this is, and that you feel good about your commitment. You’re a hero in the dream business. Be well.

Dr. Tom Jackson Jr. is the president of Cal Poly Humboldt. Frank Whitlatch is the executive director of the Cal Poly Humboldt Foundation.