Central Michigan University has launched the public phase of a historic $100 million fundraising campaign. "Fire Up for Excellence" will engage alumni, donors and friends in support of the university and its students.
Student scholarship winners, faculty, staff, donors, alumni, volunteers and friends joined university leaders, including President George E. Ross and Board of Trustees Chair Bill Weideman, at a lively celebration Saturday evening in the John G. Kulhavi Events Center.
"We are a great university," Ross said in his welcoming remarks to a crowd of over 300 guests. "Now, we must have the support of our alumni and friends to stay great."
Among those in attendance were NFL stars Antonio Brown and Cooper Rush, both CMU alumni.
The Fire Up for Excellence campaign has changed the culture of philanthropy at CMU, Ross said. Alumni have always been proud to say "Fire Up Chips!" Now, they feel equally proud to say they are giving back financially to their alma mater and its students.
A nationwide campaign for a national university
Bob Martin, vice president for Advancement, said private support is especially critical to CMU's success in the face of declining state appropriations. State funding today covers 17 percent of the university's operating budget, compared to 32 percent in 2002.
Every member of the CMU community has a role to play, he said.
"Fire Up Chips is more than a phrase you say at sporting or alumni events. It means you care, that your university is important to you," Martin told the audience.
"This campaign is national in scope in the same sense that CMU is a national university. We are one of the 100 largest public universities in the U.S. We have nationally ranked academic programs. A gift to CMU is an investment in the future of CMU, the state of Michigan and well beyond."
Mike O’Donnell, chair of the Fire Up for Excellence Campaign, says further support is still needed.
To date, the campaign has raised more than $83 million of its $100 million goal and has set several records for giving, including the highest number of donors in university history last year, Martin said.
"Every contribution to the campaign will live on through generations of future CMU Chippewas. It is time to make a difference not only in future students' lives, but also in all the lives they will touch."
Spotlight on student success
In its 2017-2022 strategic plan, Advancing Excellence, CMU identifies nurturing student success as priority No. 1. The campaign supports that goal through opportunities to fund scholarships, study abroad, internships and clerkships.
"The theme of this campaign is student success. Everything we do at CMU has to focus on making our students more successful," Martin said.
The launch showcased several CMU gems, including academic programs. During a strolling reception that preceded the main event, students representing CMU's New Venture Competition and Isabella Bank Institute for Entrepreneurship, the Threads fashion show and fashion merchandising and design program, and the CMU Society of Automotive Engineers Baja team shared their success stories.
Guests meet with students representing a variety of CMU programs, including the SAE Baja team.
Video vignettes throughout the evening highlighted programs that provide students opportunities for hands-on learning such as the College of Medicine's simulation center and the CMU Audiology Clinic at the Carls Center for Clinical Care and Education.
"Our nation needs skilled, strong, intelligent men and women who will lead the way forward. And at CMU, we graduate leaders," Ross said.
Emphasis on faculty, facilities and athletics
Students achieve success in the classroom and on the field at CMU, Martin said. Campaign priorities include a new Chippewa Champions Alumni Center at the north end of Kelly/Shorts Stadium. It will include a welcome center and "home base" for returning alumni, a rehabilitation center and a nutrition center for all CMU student-athletes and new football locker rooms.
In addition, the campaign will raise funds for recruitment, retention and professional development for faculty.
"Our greatest asset is in our classrooms: our professors, researchers, innovators and leaders. Their teaching and mentorship leaves a lasting impression on our students, helping to ensure their success," Ross said.
Priority areas include supporting research, funding faculty endowments and updating learning laboratories.
Stan Shingles, left, who directs university recreation, welcomes NFL star Antonio Brown back to campus.
"Our time to share, to give back"
Ross, who will step down from his presidency July 31 after eight years in the office, said he has presided over the graduation of more than 50,000 students. Many could not have enrolled or completed their degrees without the support of scholarships funded by alumni and friends.
Ross and his wife, Elizabeth, have made their own $1 million commitment to support scholarships for students studying music, accounting and medicine.
Campaign Chair O'Donnell encouraged the audience to reflect on their own CMU experiences.
"Every future CMU Chippewa deserves the chance to realize their potential. Now is our time to share, to give back, and to provide current and future students with the same opportunities we have had for a superior educational experience at CMU."
Honoring Enberg's commitment to students
Ross and O'Donnell recognized the late Dick Enberg, who served as the campaign's honorary chair, for his advocacy on behalf of CMU and support of its students.
Before introducing the campaign video that Enberg helped to narrate and produce before passing away in December, O'Donnell said, "Dick would have been with us tonight and was beyond proud of CMU and the opportunities he had while on campus."
CMU honors the late Dick Enberg, honorary campaign chair, for his commitment to student success.
Enberg, who grew up in Armada, Michigan, developed his love for broadcasting as a student at CMU in the 1950s. His voice became legendary during his 60-year career as a sportscaster. He earned national accolades from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame. He won 13 Sports Emmy Awards and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
"Dick Enberg was always quick to say that CMU gave him his chance. Central took him from a farming community to the national broadcasting stage," Ross said.
"He was an unwavering supporter of the opportunities CMU creates for students — including those who don't yet know their own potential or have the means to pursue the futures that await them."