Paying It Forward

Class of 2008 gift points to the future.

From the Fall 2008 edition of Vanderbilt Business

This past February we were approached by Jim Bradford, Dean of the Owen School, and asked to serve as the Co-Chairs of the Class of 2008 Class Gift. We were both initially surprised by the e-mail but quickly realized what an honor it was to be asked to serve our class in this capacity. Without even speaking to each other, we knew that we would have to work as a team to organize and motivate the class to ensure that we left a positive and lasting mark on Owen, just as we’d done during our two years as MBA candidates.

The first item on our to-do list was to meet with Dean Bradford, Associate Dean of Development and Alumni Relations Tricia Carswell, Alumni Program Coordinator Melinda Phillips, and Director of Alumni Relations Marshall Turnbull. Jim began the meeting by heaping praise upon the Class of 2008, telling us that he believed we were truly a special Owen class. He said that our accomplishments and student-led initiatives arguably surpassed those of any class that preceded us. Now you may think that this is the speech that he gives to class representatives every year, but we sensed that he genuinely meant it.

Class Co-Chairs Erin Hofmann and Matthew Garrett
Class Co-Chairs Erin Hofmann and Matthew Garrett helped establish the Student Initiative Fund at Owen.

Tricia followed Jim’s praise for our class with more of the same but added a little fundraising theory to the mix. The underlying idea of the class gift is to form in our alumni the habit of giving back to Owen. When a person donates time or money to a cause or institution, that person has a stake in that cause. In the case of Owen, the greater the stake there is in the school’s success, the more involvement our alumni base will seek. High levels of alumni involvement, both financial and otherwise, are hallmarks of top B-schools across the country. Involved alumni enrich the experiences of faculty, staff, MBA candidates, prospective students, and the Owen community as a whole.

After Tricia’s remarks we began to discuss the gift itself. Rumblings about much-needed updates to Owen’s physical environment had not fallen on deaf ears, but Jim wanted to steer us in a different direction. We knew we would have to come up with a concept that truly represented our class’s accomplishments.

Our thoughts immediately turned to the impending building expansion. As most classes express, Owen creates a family environment that lasts. How could we contribute? Gathering space? Work areas? A lounge?

Millions of dollars must be raised over the next few years for a new building and updates to the old building through a capital campaign. Anything added or improved in our current building would be temporary at best. We also wanted our gift to take hold immediately.

While we began to brainstorm about our big gift, we formulated our strategy and built our team. We chose a diverse group of our classmates who represented leadership in all areas and were well-respected within the Owen community. We now had our committee, but we still lacked our Great Idea.

We couldn’t help but remember the praise offered by Jim, Tricia, Marshall, and Melinda. Our class, through both the seeds planted by classes before us and our own innovations, had accomplished quite a bit. Owen Bloggers, the Leadership Development Program, Project Pyramid, Leadership in Action, and the Human Capital Case Competition all came into their own during our time at Owen, and several projects, such as 100% Owen, blossomed under Class of 2008 leadership. Not too shabby.

Our class gift started to develop: Our opportunities came from those before us through mentoring, ideas and finally, alumni and capital campaign donors. We wanted that tradition to continue. Physical gifts represent stagnancy and the past; we needed a dynamic gift that points to the future.

Recent class gifts included a student travel fund and the online community OwenConnect—both concepts that allow for future opportunities. We wanted to ensure future classes would have the same opportunities we were fortunate enough to have, and so, with some deliberation, we established the Student Initiative Fund. With Associate Dean of Students Jon Lehman as guardian, the fund would provide seed money to any group wishing to start a project that would benefit the student body or the school as a whole. These initiatives could take the form of guest lectures, student-run projects or anything future classes deem worthwhile. The gift would also give us the chance to come back to Owen to help out in other capacities by offering our advice, our guidance and our time to these projects.

Our Class Gift Committee stepped up more than we ever could have imagined, putting forth both their confidence in Owen and their financial backing, despite the fact that some were still job searching. Through diligent pestering, nostalgic storytelling and more than a few Starbucks cards, we discovered that most of our classmates felt the way we did: They wanted to pay it forward to the classes to come.

All in all, the Class of 2008 raised $200,001 (don’t think we didn’t count every dollar!), and the inaugural MAcc class showed up with 100 percent participation. As new graduates we feel our experience at Owen was greater than we could have imagined, and we hope, as you think back on your own time at Owen, that you will remember the future classes who will answer the door when opportunity knocks. Thank you for your support!



Matthew Garrett and Erin Hofmann graduated from the Owen School in May.

One Response to “Paying It Forward”

  1. Alex

    Excellent article!

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