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Defy Boundaries donors make long-lasting impacts with gifts that keep on giving
By Pete Mackey
elping students become international negotiators. Boosting faculty teaching excellence. Bringing award-winning guest journalists to classrooms. Bolstering education in Mandarin and the Chinese culture. Securing great coaches for the long-term with endowed funding. And changing forever Conn’s capacity to enroll the best students from every background. These are just a few of the many ways that day after day, gift after gift, donors to theDefy Boundaries campaign are transforming the range and quality of a Conn education. They are investing where their generosity can make the greatest difference, strengthening Conn and changing lives.
Already, with two years left to go in the campaign, Conn’s supporters have contributed more than 44,700 gifts to the College that total more than $240 million. This includes more than $110 million to the endowment, $60 million to capital projects, and $70 million for programming and the annual fund (see pages 16-17). The impact of this giving begins on campus and extends around the world.
Consider these two examples.
In 2019, Richard von Glahn ’75 wanted to honor two revered Conn professors whose teaching and influence changed his life, teaching him Chinese, inspiring him to complete his Ph.D. in Chinese history, and seminally influencing his decision to build what has become a distinguished career as a professor of history at UCLA. The two he had in mind were the late and beloved Charles Chu and Henry T.K. Kuo. Professor Chu first introduced the study of Mandarin Chinese at Conn in 1965, leading it to become one of the first undergraduate liberal arts colleges to offer a Chinese language and literature major. Together, he and Professor Kuo built an exceptional department and earned the lasting affection and respect of their students for their attentive and skilled teaching.
Von Glahn decided to advance their legacy and inspire other students by creating the Chu-Kuo Fellowship for Language Study. His gift has already supported three years’ worth of student fellowships in China—but that is only the beginning. Because von Glahn made his Defy Boundaries gift to an endowed fund, the Chu-Kuo Fellowship will carry forward the influence of two of Conn’s finest teacher-scholars for generations of students to come.
The Bessell Scholars Fund is another example of how campaign gifts take Conn’s influence around the world. Created by Diane Bessell ’59 through a series of planned gifts prior to her passing in 2020, this new, comprehensive, endowed fund spins off enough interest every year to fund junior-year internships, senior-year research projects, and campus events focused on international understanding, diplomacy and sustainable development.
As such gifts to Defy Boundaries open the world in new ways to our students, back on campus other gifts are deepening the Conn experience in myriad ways. Perhaps nothing sums up this impact better than the Hale Scholarship Initiative, established by Karen and Rob ’88 Hale P’20 to turn $10 million of financial aid endowment into $20 million. This magic act is becoming reality today: Rob and Karen’s gift of $10 million is being used to double every new endowed scholarship that a Conn donor creates with a gift of $250,000 or more. Only one year in, this fund has already turned $6 million in new scholarship gifts into $12 million.
As Patricia Salz Koskinen ’64 said, “I think it’s incredibly selfless and so generous not only to give yourself but also to try to include others.” When the $20 million match is achieved—and contributors like Koskinen are already showing they will make it happen—more than $1 million in new dollars will, every year, support Conn’s commitment to access for America’s best students from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Rob Hale said, “This College changed my life.” He, Karen, and their fellow donors are paying that forward with creative generosity.
As such scholarships bring outstanding students to campus, other Defy Boundaries gifts ensure that when they get here, they’ll be able to make the most of every opportunity. Including, for example, in the arts, thanks to a new campaign gift that establishes an endowment to support the spectacular new Athey Center for Performance and Research at Palmer Auditorium. This latest gift continues a transformation of the Athey that builds on two other Defy Boundaries contributions that paved the way.
With a series of gifts totaling more than $20 million, donors transformed the physical space of the Athey, creating an exceptional home for performance, teaching and research worthy of Conn’s excellence in the arts. And then Julie Ann Hovey Slimmon ’52 GP’10 stepped forward to support, she said, “the place on campus that meant so much to me.” It meant so much, in fact, that when she was an undergraduate, she deliberately chose to live in Freeman, always ready to run quickly across the green to Palmer, whatever the weather. Now, through an endowed Defy Boundaries gift, she has funded an enduring financial resource for Athey maintenance and arts programming. Together, she and all donors to Athey have made sure that generations of future students may follow in her footsteps and race across the green to perform in or enjoy new and exciting productions.
One donor issued the challenge, the next met that challenge, and the third saw the imperative of sustaining what had been built. Conn donors rallied, again, to make a Conn education more meaningful, for students today, tomorrow, and decades to come, defying the boundaries of what any individual gift could do. That’s the power of a campaign where ambition meets visionary generosity.
But the campaign isn’t over yet. With two years to go, Defy Boundaries aspires to reach its goal of $300 million. Numerous areas still require the kinds of investments that will set Conn apart and enable students to achieve everything they can. As the campaign’s momentum has made clear, Conn donors will meet the challenge. Because there are boundaries yet to defy.
THE POWER OF MANY
Gifts from thousands of alumni provide annual support for every aspect of the Conn experience
The year Josephine Shepard gave her first gift to the Connecticut College Fund, color television had just been introduced to the U.S., J. D. Salinger published The Catcher in the Rye, super glue was invented, and Connecticut College was only 40 years old. The year was 1951, that new donor had just earned her Conn degree, and she was starting 71 straight years—and counting—of continuous giving to the College’s annual fund. It is a record of annual generosity that makes potently clear why gifts to this critical resource for the College mean so much.
Because across all those decades, even across two centuries, Shepard’s contributions were combined with the gifts of every other donor in every one of those years to support every aspect of the College’s mission, from faculty teaching to student financial aid to classroom, laboratory and art equipment. Put differently, without Shepard and those generous annual fund contributors like her, a Conn education would not be nearly as powerful as it is.
For there is truly strength in their numbers: When Shepard gave her most recent annual gift—year 71!—she was joining with some 6,000 other donors who now annually support the College. Together, with gifts of $25, $50, $100 and more, in fiscal year 2022 they broke a Conn record, contributing $6.85 million to support the College’s role in student lives. Meanwhile, parent and family giving to the annual fund also became the most generous in College history, surpassing $1.1 million.
How valuable is this generosity? That $6.85 million goes immediately into the work of the College, making it equivalent to Conn having an additional $150 million in endowment. And through the Defy Boundaries campaign, more donors than ever are now part of this vital yearly effort. Since the start of the campaign, 13,000 individual donors have given to the College, from classes spanning 10 decades.
To know Conn, in fact, is to know the impact of its annual fund. These gifts are invested across the entire educational experience, from botany to philosophy, computer science to history, athletics to LGBTQIA, and the Holleran Center to the Hillel House, including supporting special programs in the arts, race and ethnicity, the arboretum, faculty training, student recruitment, and more. One gift after another, the annual fund makes Conn better, more competitive and more visionary.
Donors themselves share the great meaning they find in contributing to such a collective impact. Carol Reeves Parke ’58, for example, has been supporting the Connecticut College Fund for more than 25 years. “I’m grateful for all that I received at CC—the friendships, of course, but also the hard-won lessons in life, in addition to some truly extraordinary teaching. Looking ahead, it’s easy to see that CC is only getting better, and I want, always, to be a part of its future success.”
A young alumnus new to the effort shares the sentiment, “I contribute to the CC Fund annually because gifts support the scholarships that allowed me to be the first in my family to enroll in and graduate from a four-year institution. I give back so students who grew up in similar conditions as mine can access a high-quality education from a premier liberal arts institution without worrying about how they will pay tuition,” says Deion Jordan ’17.
Like its own donors, Conn never rests on its successes. That is why as part of the Defy Boundaries campaign, Conn has set an ambitious giving goal. So far, 40% of Conn alumni have participated in the campaign. But Conn would be a national leader in alumni participation if that figure rose above 50%—which would take another 2,500 new alumni donors to the campaign.
That would be defying boundaries. Nothing magnifies the impact of every gift like the annual fund, so consider this your open invitation to join the effort—and stand with Josephine Shepard.