Creating the future
Alumni CEO DeAnna Carlson Zink highlights support for student scholarships and faculty needs in annual address
As DeAnna Carlson Zink, CEO of the University of North Dakota Alumni Association & Foundation, took the stage, she cradled her 16-month-old grandson, William.
Still learning to talk, Will likes building blocks and forts and “The Little Blue Truck.” His early-childhood inclinations may not reveal much about the professional path he may choose one day. But that’s okay.
“And that’s because 85 percent of today’s children will be employed in jobs that have yet to be created,” said Carlson Zink, in her annual State of the Foundation Address, which took place on Aug. 28 at the Gorecki Alumni Center.
The still uncharted careers of the future accentuate the importance of coaching today’s students to adapt, innovate and excel.
“They will be your children’s teachers, your nurses, your lawyers,” said Carlson Zink. “They’re building bridges, flying unmanned aircraft and working to cure diseases.”
They are the leaders UND is nurturing with the help of the Foundation.
In the last fiscal year, which ended on June 30, the Foundation raised almost $35 million from over 9,000 donors. Half of it is earmarked for scholarships. More than $7 million – or $1 million more than in 2017 – has already reached students, allaying the burden of student loans.
“We want to keep increasing that because average debt at graduation is almost $23,000, and almost two-thirds of students have to borrow money for school,” Carlson Zink said.
The amount of loan debt swells to $57,000 for graduates from UND John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, which plays a crucial role in alleviating the national shortage of qualified pilots.
“We need to lift up the Odegard School – and all nine of our colleges and schools – to increase their scholarship funding and program support so that our future graduates can respond to the societal challenges of tomorrow,” said Carlson Zink.
To that end, the Foundation is creating sustainable funding opportunities such as the UND Promise scholarship fund, which over the course of the last fiscal year attracted more than 1,500 donors.
Their support appears to be already making a difference. This fall semester, UND welcomed the most academically gifted freshman class in its 135-year-old history. With the highest incoming GPAs, more than 160 of the fledgling Fighting Hawks are Honors Program students.
“These extraordinary students are why we do what we do,” Carlson Zink said. “They, and the important people who educate them – UND’s faculty.”
Right people, right place
Carlson Zink continued, “Every day, faculty stand up and lead our University to greater heights by providing the best education to our students and undergoing cutting-edge research in UAS, energy, and the health sciences.”
Carlson Zink singled out one faculty member the Foundation has endowed – Continental Resources Chair of the Petroleum Engineering Department Vamegh Rasouli. His vision has chiseled UND’s Petroleum Engineering program into North Dakota’s only discipline of its kind.
Thanks to gifts from the Hess Company, Continental Resources and Harold Hamm, Rasouli is leading the recently opened Hess Virtual Reality Lab, “which brings the Bakken here,” and attracts talented students, renowned educators and expert researchers.
Aside from uplifting students and their professors, the Foundation etches a physical mark on campus. It is fundraising for the construction of a modern home for the College of Business & Public Administration as well as a new building adjacent to the North Dakota Athletics’ High Performance Center.
The latter has propelled UND’s track-and-field teams to break 46 school records. “We are committed to giving our student-athletes every opportunity to perform at the highest levels in competition, in the classroom and our community,” said Carlson Zink.
Receiving and giving
When it comes to UND’s community, alumni from around the country are helping it flourish. UND grad Greg Shega and his wife, Amy, for instance, have included $1 million in their will for STEM and Indians Into Medicine program scholarships, geared toward Native Americans.
Also, UND friends David and Lola Monson have pledged $2 million for the establishment of a telemedicine institute at the UND School of Medicine, which will provide rural residents better access to quality healthcare.
UND is also giving back, fostering partnerships with the City of Grand Forks in “revolutionary ways,” Carlson Zink said. With a mutual understanding of their inadvertent symbiosis, the University and the City have teamed up in the Main Street GF Challenge, which is a part of Governor Doug Burgum’s Main Street Initiative.
The collaboration prompted UND students to creatively address social and civic matters. Some of these included enhancements along the Grand Forks Greenway system and the introduction of New Americans to their new surroundings.
“The community of Grand Forks is good to us, so we return the favor,” said Carlson Zink.