Student Endowment Fund: November/December

The November-December Spotlight was written by Past President Cathy Leong and President Mark Spencer. The Student Endowment Fund officially closed the gap and reached its $500,000 goal at the end of the summer. The following are their thoughts on this achievement and the next steps for the Student Endowment Fund:

WEB-cathy_leong--2(by Cathy Leong) Nelson Mandela said to “Remember to celebrate milestones as you prepare for the road ahead”…I feel that this is where we are right now.  When I was first appointed as the Western District Endowment Fund Committee Chair in 2007, the Endowment Fund had $40,000.  Our $500,000 goal seems like such a daunting task and I often wondered how we were going to get there.  Now we stand at that threshold and as celebrate how far we’ve come, I feel the need to look back and reminisce about how we reached this milestone.

Over the years we have tried every trick in the book to make sure everyone knew that that the District had an Endowment Fund and what it was for.  We had a dedicated group of people that shook hands, sent emails, made phone calls, held auctions and raffles, and even sold tattoos to help raise awareness of the fund.

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The response from our Sections, Chapters, and members was overwhelming.  Our Sections/Chapters raised money annually to contribute to the fund in addition to supporting all of their local programs.  In addition, many of our contributors kept coming back, year after year, donating what they could at the time.  We always said that it would only take a little bit from everyone to meet our goal…and that’s really how we got here.

So where is here?  And how are the funds being spent to benefit our students throughout the District?  These questions have been asked regularly by our contributors and members.  The District currently supports over $15,000 in student initiatives each year.  These initiatives include:

  • Funding and awards for the James H. Kell competition held at the Western District Annual Meeting
  • Funding for data collection projects (5 projects per year)
  • Support of travel for our winning Student Traffic Bowl team to the ITE International Meeting
  • Support of travel to the ITE International Meeting if a Western District student chapter wins the International Student Chapter Award
  • Support for the Student Leadership Summit
  • Awards for student chapter annual reports
  • Awards for our student paper winner, outstanding graduate and undergraduate students, and outstanding student chapter at the Western District Annual Meeting

So, is $500k enough?  The answer is yes and no.  Yes, we are currently earning enough per year to support our existing student initiatives program.  But no, we are not earning enough per year to expand our program to include new initiatives.  The District has always had the long-tern goal to expand our current initiatives to include new programs to support and retain our best and brightest students.  So let’s celebrate how far we’ve come, but now is the time to plan for the future.

MarkSpencer.jpg(by Mark Spencer) It’s been a journey.  Our Student Endowment Fund is now ten years old and $500,000 strong.  And looking forward, we can’t stop believing in the future of our profession.  The first $500,000 should be viewed as our first level goal; it’s an awesome achievement, and now it’s time to set new goals.  Over the course of my career, starting when I was a student chapter President and now as a Western District officer, I have visited many ITE student chapters, met with students and faculty, hired student interns, participated in career guidance programs, and attended Student Leadership Summits.  I get it, and I know we can do so much more.  We now have the opportunity to reach many more students than ever before.

To start, we can expand our current initiatives.  As an example, increasing the funding of the data collection project will allow more schools to participate and receive funds.  And providing more funding for student travel to conferences or the Student Leadership Summit will increase the benefits and level of engagement we have with our student members.

And while we can and should expand our current student programs, for our profession to evolve and flourish, we must push the envelope.  We need to train, mentor and create opportunities for each successive generation in order to retain them in our profession.

Training is an area that cuts across all student chapters.  But no matter whether a school has one transportation class or many, they all could use more. Perhaps it’s materials, or lectures, or gaining hands on experience.  And it’s not just technical training.  Successful engineers and planners need to be able to communicate, to multi-task, and understand the interrelationships of our industry alongside others.

We have had mentorship programs come and go at the District level, and also at the Section and Student Chapter levels as well.  Many of us have benefitted from mentorship programs, either as a mentee or a mentor. Perhaps we can now refresh our approach, focus on best practices, and help student mentorship programs in a new and modern way.

All of the hard work and effort we put into creating, building and sustaining the Student Endowment Fund puts the onus on all of us to create opportunities.  With our currently rebounding economy there are more jobs for students coming out of school.  We can improve the ways we connect the workforce and students with one another.

You may say I’m a dreamer.  But I’m not the only one.  Many members contributed to the Student Endowment Fund over its first ten years, and all of us should be commended on reaching an important milestone.  And now we must move forward.  I hope you’ll join us!

Contributions to the Endowment Fund can be made at