Southwestern University has received a $1 million commitment from an anonymous donor which will go to creating more opportunities for first-generation students and securing further donations for the university’s future. 

The gift will be used in three different ways. Half of the donation will establish a new and permanent endowed fund in honor of the donor’s mother that will be used to provide high-impact experiences for first-generation Southwestern students. Another amount will provide $20,000 for every contribution of $40,000 or more to an endowment for either student scholarships or high-impact experiences. This will add over $1 million of new funding to the endowment. The donor is also issuing a legacy challenge: for 20 people who choose to document a new estate gift to the university, the donor will contribute $50,000 to the university’s endowment. High-impact experiences and increasing need-based financial aid for students at Southwestern are both key components of the university’s 2021-2026 Tactical Plan. 

“Our benefactors are great university citizens, and they are among our most dedicated,” President Laura Skandera Trombley said. “The impact of this gift will generate opportunities not just for this year, not just for next year but will catalyze opportunities that will change and transform lives for generations to come. We are deeply grateful to them for their extraordinary generosity.”

This donation illustrates the donor’s commitment to Southwestern’s legacy and to high-impact experiences, which include study abroad, funded internships, community-engaged learning opportunities and student-faculty collaborative research. These experiences are shown to have a relationship to higher GPAs, retention and persistence, student engagement and a sense of belonging on campus. 

“Time and time again, you will hear faculty talk about the fact that [students’ engagement in high impact experiences] really adds a depth to their class discussions,” said Maria Kruger, director of stewardship at Southwestern. “They’ve been able to see the theories they talk about put into practice and how they actually function in the world.” 

The results are even more striking for students from underserved communities, who often are the least likely to participate in high-impact experiences. Southwestern has long sought to increase equitable access to these opportunities and has offered funding for many of the experiences. Last year, 306 graduates from the class of 2021 participated in at least one high-impact experience, which included activities from interning at the Dallas Zoo to studying sustainability in Switzerland to revitalizing a community garden in Georgetown. 

“If more of our students are coming to Southwestern as first-generation students, or bringing other backgrounds and experiences, we need to be thinking through: how can we open those doors for all students?” said Sarah Brackman, Southwestern’s senior director of integrative and community-engaged learning.

“We are excited about Southwestern’s future as outlined in their recent tactical plan,” said the donor and longtime friend of Southwestern. “We are especially honored to create challenges that relate to our passion for first-generation scholarships and impactful student experiences like study abroad. Our ultimate goal is to grow the endowment which is something we feel is vital for a university to sustain itself.”

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