Seeing opportunities for career growth and doing more of what she really wants to do, Tara Laughlin ’19 first seriously contemplated pursuing a master’s degree earlier this year. But the combination of working full time as a software engineer at Capital One, planning her wedding for next year, and the costs of graduate school gave her pause.
Fortunately, philanthropy offered her an avenue to chase a dream.
Laughlin was named one of seven Boeing Graduate Scholars, earning a scholarship to pursue a Master of Engineering in computer science, with a specialization in human computer interaction, at Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus in the greater Washington, D.C., metro area. Her scholarship comes courtesy of Boeing’s $50 million gift commitment to Virginia Tech, part of which is being used to fund student scholarships. The gift also aids with the recruitment of faculty and researchers and will fund STEM pathway programs for underserved K-12 students looking to pursue a college degree and enter high-tech career sectors.
“My company would have paid for part of it,” Laughlin said of graduate school. “But I think it definitely would have been difficult to make it work without the scholarship. I’m actually engaged, and we’re planning a wedding for next August, so that, on top of graduate school, would have definitely been very difficult.”
Laughlin’s story illustrates the importance of financial support from Virginia Tech donors, both corporate and individual, who combined to contribute more than $200 million to the university during the past fiscal year that ended June 30, 2021—a record amount.
That total pushes the university past the halfway mark toward its $1.5 billion goal for Boundless Impact: The Campaign for Virginia Tech. Launched in 2019, the campaign was created to fuel excellence across all university programs and drive forward major strategic priorities. Along with the dollar goal, the campaign also is measuring the number of engaged Hokies—about 70,000, at last count, with a goal of 100,000.
“We are deeply grateful for the remarkable support we have received from Hokies everywhere,” said Virginia Tech President Tim Sands. “Their generosity and engagement inspire us as we seek to advance as a leader in higher education and have a positive impact on communities in Virginia and around the globe.”
The recent record-setting giving by Virginia Tech supporters continues an encouraging trend of rising generosity. In FY16, the university’s Advancement division, charged with engaging alumni and raising money for the university’s mission and led by Vice President for Advancement Charlie Phlegar ’78, M.S. ’87, passed the $100 million milestone for the first time. By FY21, the total had doubled, reaching $200.3 million. Moreover, the number of donors more than doubled, rising from 26,937 in FY16 to 57,578 in FY21.
The percentage of undergraduate alumni who give is also increasing. Twenty percent of them contributed during the past fiscal year, compared to 15 percent in FY20. The Advancement division is well on its way to meeting Sands’ goal, first outlined in a State of the University Address in 2016, of 22 percent of alumni contributing by 2022. Over the next 20 years, the growth to 22 percent when compared to the FY16 rate will mean an estimated $900 million in additional giving.
“Nationwide, the percentage of alumni giving to their alma maters has been declining for many years, but not here,” Phlegar said when the record total for FY21 was announced in August. “We are excited and extremely grateful to have received a record number of new gifts and commitments this past year, while also seeing such a major increase in the percentage of our alumni who give.”
The giving percentage is not only a vote of confidence from alumni in the direction of Virginia Tech, but it also represents an investment in the university’s long-term success. Phlegar explained that every gift, of every size, furthers the university’s mission. He pointed to the Class of 2021 achieving a participation rate of 27.2 percent in FY21, which allows the university to continue expanding scholarship opportunities, supporting global research endeavors by faculty and staff, and building the best in facilities—right now and into the future.
“The intangible of why Hokies give is the Hokie spirit that lives within us,” said Class of 2021 President Grant Bommer. “The culture that we foster here leads to students deeply caring about the activities that they are involved in. That is why we give back: so that others can experience everything that makes Virginia Tech so great and help it to reach its fullest potential.”
the growing wave
Why is the Advancement team so optimistic about the future of fundraising at Virginia Tech?
It’s the enthusiasm of alumni—and the actual numbers (see the chart above).
Because the university started to graduate much larger classes starting in the late 1970s, the Advancement division is now engaging with a burgeoning number of alumni who are beginning to consider their long-term legacies. The trends show that older alumni tend to give larger gifts.
By FY27, the number of alumni who graduated 41-50 years ago will increase by 31 percent. The number of alumni 51-60 years out will double, and the alumni 61-plus years out will increase by 141 percent.
Consider this: The 1970s graduates outnumber the 1950s graduates about 10 to 1. In two decades, when the 1970s graduates are 61-plus years out from graduation, if they give gifts at the same average amount as 1950s graduates today, that alone will mean $115 million in 20 years compared to about $12 million today from alumni who are 61-plus years out.
The future is indeed bright.
“We are inspired by every gift of every size,” Vice President for Advancement Charlie Phlegar said. “We are incredibly grateful for the support of our alumni and donors. Their imprint on this university will last for generations.”
As a Boeing Scholar, Laughlin is one of many student beneficiaries—a number expected to grow as Virginia Tech continues to build its new Innovation Campus in Alexandria, Virginia.
“It really was a weight off my shoulders, just not having to pay thousands of dollars right off the bat for school,” Laughlin said. “I’m incredibly grateful to have this opportunity and thankful to everyone at Virginia Tech who helped me get here.”
Boeing stands as one of many partners in Virginia Tech’s commitment to build an Innovation Campus that unites industry, government, and academia to solve the world’s most pressing problems through technology. Plans call for the construction of three buildings that will help the university’s long-term goals of graduating 550 master’s and 50 doctoral candidates annually.
“We are [helping to underwrite] the diversity of this student population,” said David Calhoun ’79, the president and CEO of Boeing, at the Sept. 14 Innovation Campus groundbreaking.
Philanthropy also continues to help with major construction efforts, such as the Corps Leadership and Science Building; the Student-Athlete Performance Center and Beamer-Lawson Indoor Practice Facility to support student-athletes; and a Global Business and Analytics Complex to include two academic buildings and multiple living-learning communities oriented around business, analytics, and international affairs.
In August, the Board of Visitors approved the design of Hitt Hall, a facility that will serve as the home for the Myers-Lawson School of Construction and allow the university to double undergraduate enrollment in construction engineering and management and building construction programs. The building also includes a much-needed dining facility and general-use classrooms.Private donations in excess of $25 million, including the gift from the Hitt Family Foundation, played a significant role in Hitt Hall’s realization.
“The skill and talent that comes out of Virginia Tech is exceptional,” HITT Contracting Inc. chairman Russell Hitt, who passed away in 2020, said when his family’s naming gift was first announced in 2016. “I know that because we’ve had a lot of Hokies on our team over the years. It’s an honor to give back to a university that not only develops capable, passionate minds, but that values the partnership between industry and higher education.”
Philanthropy’s impact on research should never go unnoticed, either. In 2018, the Fralin family made a $50 million commitment to the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, supporting efforts to recruit and retain world-leading biomedical researchers, who continue to make advances in areas of cancer, heart disease, brain research, Alzheimer’s, depression, and more.
“I look forward to the many discoveries that will emerge as we grow and become a leading academic health center for biomedical research in the commonwealth,” Heywood Fralin, the chairman of Medical Facilities of America and a former member of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors, said when the gift was announced.
Thanks to the generosity of alumni, friends, students, parents, employees, and corporate and foundation partners—and the hard work of the Advancement division—Virginia Tech finds itself in a position to support many ambitious plans. As it continues to work to achieve the goals laid out in the Boundless Impact campaign, Advancement has set its sights on helping the university expand its mission to an even greater degree.
Now, the division aspires to go from raising $200 million annually to $300 million by FY28—a realistic target as more alumni and donors choose to engage with the university.
“An investment in Virginia Tech is a direct investment in students, staff, and faculty members—our university’s greatest resources,” Phlegar said. “Virginia Tech already is a global force thanks primarily to these three constituent groups and the supporting efforts of many others. Now, it’s positioned perfectly to be an even bigger one in the future.”