State of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation address

UND’s Alumni Association & Foundation celebrates year of record fundraising, campus developments and student support through alumni generosity

The following address was delivered by DeAnna Calrson Zink, CEO of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation.

Welcome to the State of the University of North Dakota Alumni Association & Foundation Address. I’m coming to you from Robin Hall. Built mostly with private donations, it’s the centerpiece of UND’s Unmanned Aerial Systems research.

DeAnna Carlson Zink

It’s hard to fathom, looking out from this vantage, that the University of North Dakota started with one building on a treeless prairie. Today, a look at how far we’ve come thanks to you, our alumni and friends.

Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” He was referring to the cumulative nature of scientific discovery, but the metaphor fits perfectly in the realm of charitable giving.

Think of how each gift to the University of North Dakota builds on what has come before. How an alum who earned a scholarship decades ago now pays it forward with a gift of their own to benefit a UND student.

Think of the impact Chester Fritz has had on generations of students. The joy countless hockey fans have experienced at The Ralph. The career guidance provided by Linda and Mark Pancratz to thousands of UND students. The leading role UND is playing in UAS research thanks to Si and Betty Robin.

We stand on the shoulders of these giants of UND, and each gift, no matter the size, builds on their legacies and gives us the vision to see farther and aspire to dream bigger dreams for UND students.

This UND legacy dates back to 1889 when the first eight graduates of UND immediately formed an alumni association in order to stay connected to one another and to their alma mater.

Two of the women in that first graduating class became doctors. Three graduates became educators.

The spirit of those first graduates lives on today in the teachers, first responders, doctors, nurses, police officers and all who’ve been called upon in the last several months to go above and beyond for their communities. We thank you for all that you’ve done to protect the health, safety and mental well-being of a distressed nation.

We also want to thank our alumni and friends who donate to this great University through the Alumni Association & Foundation. You may remember that last year, we celebrated a record-breaking fundraising effort with you, our alumni and friends, giving more than $67 million. It was amazing.

But THIS year, you ended up not only breaking that record, but SHATTERING it.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30th, alumni and friends of UND committed an unprecedented $80.1 million.

Let that sink in for a moment: $80 million dollars to support this University and its outstanding students. This unbelievable year caps off a six-year run in which donations total more than $304 million!

All of this has happened during a fiscal year turned upside down by a global pandemic that has impacted our lives in unprecedented ways.

But the reaction of our donors is not unprecedented; in fact, UND is built on a foundation of the community coming to its aid.

In 1895, when a state budget crisis threatened the future of the budding University on the prairie, the community and alumni came together to raise $33,000 to keep the University open.

It happened again during the Great Depression when students struggled to afford to attend UND. When the University created housing out of discarded railroad cabooses, “Camp Depression” was born. While the students worked on campus to cover their rent, food was always in short supply. So Grand Forks residents opened their homes to hungry students to make sure they got a home-cooked meal.

And certainly, let’s not forget the local, state and national response to rebuild not only UND, but the entire community, following the Flood of 1997.

In setting this record, our alumni and friends gave more than 12,000 gifts with 747 people being first-time givers to the University.

$18.2 million dollars was earmarked by donors for scholarships.

And $6.3 million for programs and faculty.

The UND Endowment Fund finished the fiscal year at $278.3 million. That was down slightly from Fiscal Year 2019, but the annual payout from the fund was a record $9.1 million for the benefit of UND students.

Overall, direct support to UND in Fiscal Year 2020 was nearly $24 million dollars…an almost $7 million increase over the previous year.

Your support of UND is nothing short of amazing – considering the year you all have had.

Image courtesy of UND Alumni Association & Foundation.

We all know the challenges that have accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of you have been cut off from your families and friends, working from home, or worse yet – you’ve found yourselves unemployed.

According to one survey, a staggering 56 percent of students polled nationwide said they can no longer pay tuition and are seeking various funding options.

Nearly 7% told survey takers they must drop out due to the financial blow incurred by COVID-19.

Compared to its national peers, the University of North Dakota is a very affordable institution. Yet, at one point this summer, 8 percent of UND’s returning undergraduate students had yet to enroll for classes in the fall. Those numbers improved slightly by the start of the semester, but returning undergraduate enrollment is still down 4.5 percent.

One-Stop Student Services at UND averaged 50 calls a day from students and their families seeking guidance on financial aid. About a fifth of all students have outstanding tuition balances.

The need is immediate, and it is great.

That’s why the UND Alumni Association & Foundation launched the Open Door Scholarship program in an effort to provide critical aid to students caught up in financial uncertainty.

Open Door Scholarship video:

Individual students and families are facing some difficult decisions right now, due to lost income. Students don’t have access to resources, or maybe have used up all of the resources they had. So what does this really mean? It means individual students are not able to pursue their dream of a University of North Dakota education. Students and their families are making decisions now as to whether or not they can come back to school in the fall. In fact, about eight percent of our undergraduate students have not yet re-enrolled for fall classes, because they don’t know whether or not they have the resources to continue with their education. The Open Door Scholarship is unique in that we need gifts today. Today, for our students in the fall and in the spring. Right now, we have a very generous match of $300,000. This is for current gifts that are coming in, specifically for these scholarships. And our goal is to raise an additional $300,000, so that there would be available $600,000 for an Open Door Scholarship for those students who need those gifts in order to pursue their UND education. I ask you to consider the opportunity to open a door for a student today – a student that can walk through that door, receive their UND education and look back with pride on this great University. And some day in the future, they’re going to reach back to another student in need, because of what you did today.

To date, UND alumni and friends have given $130,000 to the Open Door Scholarship. That has been paired with an equal amount from the Open Door match fund to make $260,000 available to help ease the financial burden for returning students. We are so grateful for your support and we know this program is keeping the dream of a UND degree alive for many students.

A one-to-one match is still available for donations to the Open Door Scholarship program.

While the Open Door Scholarship focuses on tuition aid, the UND Angel Fund offers help with other emergency expenses such as medical bills and food purchases. The Fund has been quietly helping students for several years, but it became a high priority in 2020 with the onset of COVID-19.

Said one student in their application for help:

“I was recently in a car accident. … I have some medical bills from this accident that I need to pay off and am still out of work now due to the COVID-19. … The day after I arrived back home, my dad’s business burned down. It has been a tough couple months for me and my family.”

Another wrote: “I have recently become homeless. I am needing to find affordable housing and finish up my coursework at the same time. I don’t have the financial ability to do both at this time.”

These are just two of hundreds of stories told by students turning to the UND Angel Fund as their last hope.

I’m proud to report that more than 200 students have received help from the UND Angel Fund so far this year and more than $161,000 has been donated to the vital fund.

That support came from all over the country and from right here on campus as coaches, faculty, staff, and administrators stepped up to give struggling students a lifeline.

I am so grateful for the caring and compassion shown by our campus partners. We are blown away by the response of all of our supporters…especially during a time when all of you may have struggles of your own.

Werner and Colleen Nistler donated the lead gift toward construction of a new UND College of Business & Public Administration building. Image courtesy of UND Alumni Association & Foundation.

Speaking of being blown away:

We are so excited to announce the completion of fundraising for the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration. The project was launched by a lead gift given by Werner and Colleen Nistler in the fall of 2019. Their generosity led others to step forward to raise an additional $30 million.

The virtual groundbreaking is slated for Homecoming Week on this site next to the Chester Fritz Library on University Avenue.

This project has been in the works for many years, and to say we are ecstatic to get it off the ground is an understatement.

This will be so impactful for many future generations of UND students and graduates.

This project wouldn’t have been possible without a match from the State of North Dakota – to the tune of $20 million.

I am so thankful to all North Dakota legislators who approved this funding mechanism. This project is a model for future public/private partnerships. I especially want to thank local legislators Ray Holmberg and Mark Sanford, who championed this project and helped guide the match funding through the state appropriations process.

In an unprecedented partnership, the City of Grand Forks Jobs Development Authority is also supporting this project with a $1.33 million gift.

A special thanks to Mayor Brandon Bochenski and city leadership for their backing of this project and their support of a stronger than ever town-and-gown partnership.

The state was also generous to provide $1.7 million through the North Dakota Higher Education Challenge Fund. That fund offers a state matching grant of $1 for every $2 donated to the state’s 11 institutions of higher learning.

Since this Challenge Funds creation by the 2013 Legislature, UND has received nearly $19 million in state grant dollars to match $38 million in private donations.

About 7 out of every 10 gifts to the program has come from outside the state of North Dakota.

The North Dakota Higher Education Challenge Grant program has been a win-win for UND, donors, and the state.

YouTube screenshot.

Have you been on the UND campus lately?

Investments by the state, the city, by our alumni, friends, businesses, Foundations, and the student body are transforming UND!

This past year has seen some amazing progress around campus: the student-funded replacement for the Memorial Union is well-underway, the Chester Fritz Library renovation is welcoming students back to campus, we’ll have a grand opening soon for the Gershman Graduate Center, which is a complete renovation and restoration of the original president’s home on campus.

A renovation of the Carnegie Library is underway, and the ATO house is ready for use.

Also welcoming students back to campus is a beautiful facelift on University Avenue and a new walking path through the core of campus.

This progress will continue with the start of construction on the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration. And we are very aware that we need to secure financial support for Phase Two of the High Performance Center. That project will play a key role in ensuring athletic dominance by the Fighting Hawks.

As I reflect on the past year, I must give thanks that Dr. Josh Wynne served as our interim President. Dr. Wynne was a calming influence on this campus and a great partner in our fundraising success in fiscal year 2020.

He was also a very gracious leader in the way in which he worked with our new President, Dr. Andrew Armacost, from the moment he was hired in December until he officially took over in June.

The cooperation between these two leaders set a great example and proved to be incredibly beneficial once the pandemic was declared.

The pandemic has consumed so much of our new president’s time, but Dr. Armacost has been up to the challenge. He has been a consensus-builder while being decisive in guiding UND. Students are back on campus this week with a variety of safety precautions in place.

A special thanks to President Armacost and Dr. Wynne for their important partnership in helping reach this fundraising record.

Video message from President Andy Armacost:

Andy Armacost

Hi, this is Andy Armacost, UND’s president. I just wanted to share with you a few words of my appreciation for all that you have done as our alumni to make sure this is a record-setting year for the Foundation and its fundraising efforts. Whether it’s near-term activities such as support to our Angel Fund, which supports immediate needs for our students, or our Open Door Scholarships, which have been incredibly useful to our students as they’re coming back during an uncertain time with COVID, those near-term needs have been really bolstered by your support. And, in addition, our long-term campaign and our long-term fundraising efforts have really – surprisingly – pressed on, in spite of all that’s going on with COVID and the economic situation in our country. So the work you’ve done, and the effort you’ve put forth and the generosity that you’ve shown has really made an impact on a variety of efforts, specifically trying to get our endowed professorships funded, our students scholarship funded, and also our capital projects – in particular, the work on the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration. For this, I say thanks. I want you to also know that one of my chief efforts as the new president of UND is to make sure we focus on a connected community, connected on campus and connected off-campus, to make sure that you, our alumni, are well-connected to what’s going on. My pledge to you is to keep you involved and informed, and so I hope to see you when you visit campus. So until then, I wish you the best, and please accept my gratitude and my true appreciation for all that you’ve done.

I encourage you to tune in for President Armacost’s first Wake Up to UND presentation. The virtual event will take place on Tuesday, September 29.

For the first time, the event will be a joint presentation with Grand Forks Mayor Bochenski. I look forward to hearing what these two leaders have to say as they celebrate the successes of UND and Grand Forks and look to the future.

Without a doubt, the next several months are shrouded in uncertainty. How will CoVID-19 impact the school year? How much of a pandemic-related hit will the state budget take? What’s in store for the U.S. economy?

However, coming off two record-setting years of giving to the University, I have great confidence in UND to weather adversity, thanks to you … its generous alumni and friends. And also thanks to our dedicated faculty, staff and administration.

We have bounced back before and, if necessary, we will do it again.

In fact, there’s more to that story of the community raising money to save UND in 1895. While the fundraising effort was underway, President Webster Merrifield was offered the presidency of the University of Montana. When he turned it down, he received another offer to bring not only himself, but the entire faculty of UND with him.

With the SAVE UND fundraising committee only halfway to its goal, the faculty met on a Sunday afternoon in the President’s home to vote on whether to leave UND with President Merrifield. Thankfully, and perhaps unsurprisingly, they voted to stay here at the University of North Dakota.

Crisis averted … and 125 years later, UND stands as the premier institution of the Northern Plains.

Moving forward, this University will continue to stand on the shoulders of giants. Just like the faculty and UND community did way back in 1895, your leadership, your compassion, and your commitment to UND, will lead the way for this storied institution. In a time of such great uncertainty, in an unprecedented pandemic, the one thing we can all be certain of is the support of UND alumni for their alma mater.

Our donors, who are giants in the eyes of our students, often don’t see themselves this way. I know that you give to make a difference, but I’m not sure you fully grasp the profound ways you are transforming the lives of those students and future alumni who are standing on your shoulders:

• to be inspired.
• to see their bright future with a UND degree in hand.
• to learn that the impossible is possible.

Thank you for watching today. And thank you for all that you do for this outstanding University and its exceptional students.