Helping Current Students Computes for Computer Science Alumni

[ June 2015 | Vol. 1 | Issue 3 ]

Stew and Elisa

Standing in front of the alumni donor wall with Steiner, senior Elise Peterson laughs, “Technically, I have a choice [to donate] but I know Stu will bug me on Facebook every day until I commit! Getting their name on the wall has become a competition among departing seniors. They donate and then post challenges on the computer science Facebook page. Steiner says, “Now their challenges raise more money for scholarships each year then my requests do!”

“Our job placement rate is 88 percent in major! But many of our most promising students can’t afford to finish,” says Stu Steiner, computer science senior lecturer. Beloved for his teaching style and mentoring talent, Steiner is also famous for engaging computer science alumni in philanthropy. With my family, I am building an endowment to help computer science students get to college. I know how patient, regular giving in modest amounts adds up.”

The idea of modest, regular giving is how the EWU Computer Science Alumni Scholarship has taken shape. Steiner remembers, “We knew of one student who was working for Microsoft and one for Nintendo. I asked them, ‘Would you think about helping us start a scholarship by giving $1,000 each and, help write a memorandum of understanding about how students would qualify for a scholarship? We got an unequivocal yes so we figured we could ask all grads who have jobs for $1,000.” But an appeal letter campaign wasn’t successful.

So Steiner and his colleagues shifted gears and began calling computer science alumni. “I would say, ‘If you commit to a $1,000 gift you can pay your pledge over three years. The money will go to fund scholarships only for our department,’ remembers Steiner. “Alumni really like idea of giving money directly to the department that educated them. We endowed a $25,000 scholarship in less than 18 months by saying ‘pay it forward!”

Through this process Steiner learned that there is a 4-5 year timespan after graduation in which students prefer not to be solicited. He says, “We took that to heart. Computer science majors leave college with an average student loan debt of $45,000. So now, as students prepare to graduate, we ask them to give $100. This gift puts their name on our donor wall and comes with a guarantee that we will be calling them for a larger gift a few years down the road.”

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