Syracuse University Magazine

What is it? It=The Future

What is it? It=The Future

The Campaign for Syracuse University surpasses $1 billion fund-raising goal, as alumni and friends band together to raise nearly double the funds of prior campaigns

With SU’s can-do attitude and a proven track record of getting the job done, it’s not surprising that The Campaign for Syracuse University surpassed its billion-dollar goal three months before the campaign’s official end on December 31. The milestone announcement was marked on September 13, when more than 1,000 students, faculty, staff, friends, and trustees came together to celebrate amidst fanfare from the SU Marching Band and streams of confetti. 

Prior to attending the lively gathering on the Shaw Quad, few in the audience knew the reason behind the celebration. Instead, many were drawn by the thought-provoking question: “What is it?”—which had been promoted throughout campus in the weeks preceding the event. The answer revealed that day was multifaceted. “It” is the campaign, the power of philanthropy, and the transformational change that can be created by working together. And perhaps most important, “it” is the foundation of SU’s future.

Event emcee Dylan Lustig ’14, president of the Student Association and a member of the Student Philanthropy Council (SPC), was joined onstage by Trustee Deryck Palmer ’78, who, as a campaign co-chair, had the honor of making the historic announcement. “It’s just incredible what we can accomplish together,” Palmer said. “Now it is up to all of us to carry this forward.” 

If the announcement of reaching the goal early wasn’t enough, Generation Orange alumna Chelsea Damberg ’12, a production assistant for the Today show in New York City and a founding member of the Student Philanthropy Council, had more news for the crowd. She introduced Trustee Winston Fisher ’96 with the announcement that he—along with fellow alums and New Yorkers, Trustee James Kuhn ’70, G’72 and Hal Fetner ’83—is establishing a space in New York City that will serve as the academic hub for experiential learning programs there. 

The Fisher Center will feature classrooms, studios, and event space, and help students make critical connections with Big Apple alumni who can assist them in forging their chosen careers. “The value of immersion experiences in the heart of NYC is that they afford SU students the opportunity to enhance critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills while receiving a hands-on introduction to the workplace of their choice in their discipline,” Fisher said. “New York City is full of SU alums, 40,000-plus, many of whom are leaders in their fields. It’s the contact with these leaders, SU’s community of experts, that creates the best possible real-world learning environment.”

Support for the campaign, which was publicly launched in 2007, has been unprecedented. “The generosity of our donors exceeded all expectations, and SU has been transformed into a fundamentally different place than when the campaign started,” says Tom Walsh G’84, executive vice president for advancement and external affairs. “We are proud that our efforts have helped build a strong infrastructure to propel the University forward.”

Walsh says that at first, many involved in the campaign’s early planning stages were stunned when in 2005 the Board of Trustees and Chancellor Nancy Cantor set the unprecedented fund-raising goal, which was triple that of any previous campaign in SU’s history. “We had difficulty just saying the word ‘billion’ out loud,” he says.

Chancellor Cantor knew the University had to aim high if it was to seize opportunities to tackle critical problems, recruit top scholars, and increase access and support for a diverse population of students from a broad spectrum of social and economic backgrounds. 

It was Cantor’s vision of Scholarship in Action that fueled the campaign. In announcing she will conclude her tenure as Chancellor in June 2014, Cantor noted that she plans to sprint to the finish line, as she has ever since she arrived in 2004. “There is much work to be done in sustaining our momentum as a university engaged with the world—work for us to tackle together in the coming three semesters, and for our next leader thereafter,” she said. 

Board of Trustees Chairman Richard Thompson G’67 credits Cantor for her leadership and vision in helping the University attain new heights and for recognizing that Scholarship in Action captures everything the University is about. “She has led us through an aggressive capital campaign so ambitious that some thought the goal was too high,” he said. “But she had confidence when others didn’t, and showed us that even the biggest global financial crisis in nearly 100 years couldn’t stop us from raising more than SU had in the previous two campaigns combined. But fund raising alone doesn’t begin to tell the story of what’s been happening at SU. Under Nancy’s leadership, SU has secured its legacy as a place of opportunity and engagement.”

A Cultural Shift

The enthusiasm generated by The Campaign for Syracuse University has ushered in a new era of unity, optimism, and belief in the future of SU. Beyond the dollars and cents, perhaps some of the most critical outcomes are foundational and cultural shifts at the University’s very core. 

Nowhere is this more evident than in the increased participation of alumni and friends. As volunteers, they have played a leading role in building a solid and longstanding base of support for the University in numerous ways—from soliciting campaign contributions from fellow alumni to hosting New Student Send-Offs to mentoring students and young alums.

Campaign co-chairs and trustees Melanie Gray L’81, Deryck Palmer ’78, and Howard Phanstiel ’70, G’71 have led the way in this transformation. Collectively, they’ve dedicated time, dollars, and inspiration while strengthening a volunteer network that will work in tandem with SU staff to focus on the University’s strategic priorities. 

Along with other trustee leaders, they’ve made history—contributing nearly $280 million to date to the campaign, which surpasses trustee philanthropic support since the University’s founding.

That volunteer spirit is also found closer to home—right on the SU campus, in fact. In the past year alone, gifts from faculty and staff totaled nearly $1 million. And in 2008, when the global economy collapsed and 400 students faced the prospect of not being able to return to SU to complete their degrees, faculty and staff came together in support of the targeted fund-raising effort Syracuse Responds. 

Faculty and staff not only made their own gifts to Syracuse Responds, they spent evenings on the telephone. Volunteers from all over the University called alumni, parents, and friends, asking them to help “Keep ’em ’Cuse.” All told, the effort raised more than $1 million, and ensured that the students returned to school in spring 2009.

“Our volunteers come from all walks of life and from all over the nation and the world,” says Brian Sischo, vice president for development. “But they all have one very important thing in common—to support SU in whatever way they can, whether it’s financially, with their ideas, or through their work as ambassadors for this great university.”

Building Momentum Coast to Coast

The success of volunteer-led, peer-to-peer efforts is nowhere more evident than in the work of alumni, parents, and friends across key regions of the country when The Campaign for Syracuse University took to the road between September 2010 and June 2012.

In Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago, and the San Francisco Bay Area, alumni and friends formed regional councils to promote the power of Scholarship in Action and encourage alumni to become actively involved with their alma mater. 

In each region, events—many of them highlighting the expertise of Syracuse University faculty—engaged local alumni while emphasizing the need to support the campaign. For example, in Washington, D.C., alumni played detective at an event showcasing the College of Arts and Sciences forensic science program and how it is using education and research to combat crime and terrorism. On the opposite coast, San Francisco alumni gathered at Google’s Mountain View campus for a reception that included students from the iSchool’s Silicon Valley immersion experience.

Leaders from the regional councils also challenged fellow alumni to step up their support. Trustee Michael Thonis ’72 matched each dollar received from Boston-area donors up to $250,000, and Trustee Winston Fisher ’96 doubled the impact of a $250,000 challenge gift for the Orange Metro Fund in the Big Apple, while Trustee David Edelstein ’78 matched all new cash gifts up to $100,000 to create the Chicago Orange Fund. All told, support to date from these regions totals more than $461 million.

During the campaign, alumni outreach was not limited to North America. This year, the University established its first international regional council—the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey (MENAT) Regional Council. 

Chaired by Whitman School of Management graduate Reda Raad ’95, a communications executive based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the MENAT Regional Council is developing goals on a number of fronts, including alumni engagement, admissions outreach, institutional partnerships and academic exchanges, and philanthropy. “The more our alumni feel connected to the University, the more likely they are to share their experiences, both as students and as graduates, which is exponentially beneficial in recruitment,” Raad says. “They will also be more inclined to use their influence and connections to help create valuable opportunities in the region for current and future SU students.” 

The willingness of Syracuse University alumni and friends to come together—even half a world away—in support of the University and its students is of no surprise to campaign co-chair Deryck Palmer. “Through these past years, I’ve seen hundreds of alumni and friends volunteer their time and band together, intent on spreading their SU pride to others,” he says. “It’s hard to express the level of passion, momentum, and positive force that lives on this campus and beyond its borders. It’s this dedication and generosity of thousands to this campaign that will form the foundation of our future.” 

Forging the Future

“The end of the regional fund-raising campaigns does not signal the end of the University’s involvement in these regions—quite the opposite,” says Sischo. “Our initiatives have sparked an ever-expanding SU presence around the country that will only grow stronger in the years ahead.”

And just as the regional councils in these “geographies of opportunity” were vital to the success of The Campaign for Syracuse University, they—and other groups of volunteers—play a key role in the University’s future by expanding their responsibilities to include other priorities. 

Enhancing the Culture of Philanthropy

During the campaign, the amount of giving by alumni and friends increased. But it has become clear that for the University to position itself for future success, it needs to build a stronger base of support at the broadest level.

With that in mind, the Syracuse University Alumni Association Board of Directors is working to increase the rate of alumni participation across the country. Part of that strategy includes an emphasis on the importance of giving back to SU and positioning philanthropy as a natural part of alumni’s lifelong engagement with the University.

Broadening Student Recruitment

As the nation’s demographics continue to shift, it’s increasingly important for SU to broaden and diversify its student body from many perspectives, but especially in relation to regional representation. 

Members of the regional councils are key to helping the University reach out to prospective students in their own backyards. For example, they share their own positive experiences, encouraging prospects to apply and ultimately choose to attend Syracuse University. They also host New Student Send-Off events in their regions to welcome first-year students and their families into the SU family.

Boosting Young Alumni Engagement

Each year, hundreds of graduates return home or move to regions where SU has large concentrations of alumni. Regional councils help mobilize these established alumni to support not only new grads, but all of Generation Orange—graduates of the most recent 10 years—during a critical time in launching their careers. 

Regional mentoring programs and events, such as SUccess in the City, provide a “soft landing” for graduating seniors and young alumni, putting them in contact with local alumni who offer information, career advice, and industry connections. 

Creating Academic Experiences

The LA Semester in Los Angeles and the Tepper Semester in New York City are just two examples of unique academic experiences that personify Syracuse University’s vision of Scholarship in Action. By bringing students together with SU’s vast networks of alumni and friends in those regions, the programs give students the ability to test their learning in real-world situations.

Regional councils assist in creating more opportunities like these, from intensive, semester-long programs to one- or two-week immersions that enable students to travel to a region to explore a specific industry in depth, such as the i-School’s popular immersion in California’s Silicon Valley.

Engaging Alumni at Home

For SU to remain a part of its alumni’s lives, it must meet those alumni where they live. The University’s active network of alumni clubs provides many opportunities for alumni to engage with SU through social events. But many alumni are also interested in activities outside of what an alumni club may offer.

Regional councils work with the University’s regional development and alumni relations staff to organize such events throughout the year. They include bringing faculty speakers from campus to share their expertise or highlighting prominent alumni within the regions to share their experiences.

Elevating the Syracuse Brand

What does the name “Syracuse University” mean in different regions of the country? Is it tied to one school or college? Is it solely linked to SU’s athletic teams? For many reasons, it’s imperative to more strongly promote SU as a diverse—yet interconnected—institution where academic excellence both reflects and informs the ideas, solutions, and professions in the world.

Regional councils play a role in raising the University’s reputation while establishing partnerships with key organizations, universities, and businesses.

A Supercharged Spirit

The enthusiasm generated by The Campaign for Syracuse University has supercharged the Orange spirit and ushered in a new era of optimism and belief in the future of SU. The continued support of SU alumni, parents, faculty, staff, students, and friends will shape the University for decades to come as a bold, agile, and passionate place of learning.

“The campaign has galvanized the SU family as never before,” Chancellor Cantor says, “creating incredibly expansive new opportunities for our students and faculty and amplifying their impact on the world in a multitude of ways. Every member of the SU community should proudly celebrate our collective accomplishment in pushing the envelope of academic innovation that makes a difference in the world.”

—From Staff Reports


Members of the SU Student Philanthropy Council at the “What is it?” event. 


Establishing a Tradition

How do you build tradition? The Syracuse University Student Philanthropy Council (SPC), a group of enterprising student ambassadors from various academic majors and class years, has taken on the challenge of rekindling the tradition of philanthropy on campus and defining what philanthropy means to SU. Through a variety of activities during the academic year, SPC members heighten awareness of the role philanthropy plays in the quality of the SU experience. 

“To ensure the continued growth and success of Syracuse University, it’s imperative that we all get into the spirit of philanthropy,” says SPC member Dylan Lustig ’14. “Syracuse University has given me a wealth of knowledge, experience, friendships, and opportunity. Giving back can never fully repay that, but it is my way of saying thank you for all that has been given to me.” 

Each spring, the SPC sponsors Philanthropy Week, which celebrates the vital role of philanthropy with a number of on-campus events. This year’s Philanthropy Week featured the inaugural Phanstiel Lecture by John Wood, founder of the award-winning nonprofit Room to Read. The week also featured the Orange Circle Awards, honoring altruistic members of the Syracuse University community who have done extraordinary things in the service of others.

The council hopes that, as its work continues, the tradition of a “culture of philanthropy” among the student population—including the renewed tradition of Class Giving—will become second nature and as common as wearing orange to an athletics event. And that as students graduate to Generation Orange alumni status, the tradition continues.


Campaign kickoff 2007


Chelsea Damberg ’12 speaks at the “What is it?” event.


Audience members gather on the Shaw Quad for the “What is it?” event. 

The event helped demonstrate the power of philanthropy to students. 


Tepper Semester students gain an inside track on the theater world in New York City.

A Team 900-Strong

Over the course of The Campaign for Syracuse University, the number of volunteers grew exponentially. Today, nearly 900 alumni, parents, and friends work together, playing a significant role in the University’s success and laying the foundation for a successful future. Who are these volunteers?  

  • Members of the Board of Trustee 
  • The Campaign for Syracuse University co-chairs
  • The Council of Chairs, representatives of each of the school and college advisory boards
  • Groups of advisors for each school, college, and unit, including members of advisory boards, boards of visitors, boards of friends, and dean’s leadership councils
  • Members of the Alumni Association Board of Directors
  • Leaders of alumni clubs across the country and around the world
  • Members of the regional councils representing Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey
  • Members of the National Parent Advisory Board
  • Members of the Metro New York Parents Executive Committee
  • Students serving as members of the Student Philanthropy Council and the Senior Class Giving Committee
  • Members of the Faculty and Staff Giving Leadership Committee
  • Members of the University’s Marketing Committee
To learn how you can become involved, contact Deborah Armstrong at 315.443.9165.


Alumni and Friends Create a World of Impact

Although The Campaign for Syracuse University doesn’t officially end until December 31, its impact has already been felt across campus, across the country, and even around the world.  As of October 31, the campaign had raised a total of $1,022,274,408. And here are just a few of the ways SU supporters have made a difference for students and faculty:

  • More than 350 new scholarships and fellowships have been created, enabling SU to provide students with $204 million in scholarships and grants in the past year alone. 
  • Thanks in large part to the Faculty Today gift challenge program, the number of SU’s endowed faculty positions has more than doubled. For a partial list of the positions created, visit
  • State-of-the-art buildings—Newhouse 3, the Life Sciences Complex, the Melo
  • Center, the Warehouse, and the Green Data Center—have been added to campus, while much-needed renovations are well under way in Huntington Hall, home of the School of Education.
  • Construction is under way on Dineen Hall, the new home of the College of Law. Once complete, the college’s current buildings will bring the programs of the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics together for the first time.
  • SU’s Los Angeles campus has expanded and is the home of the LA Semester, a new entertainment industry-focused program.
  • A campus expansion is under way in New York City, where faculty and students will have dedicated classroom space for the many academic programs that turn the city into “the world’s largest classroom.”
  • Civil engineering students are gaining valuable experience in one of the world’s fastest-growing cities, thanks to a six-week internship program in Dubai.

As impressive as these examples are, they’re just the beginning of the myriad ways the campaign has changed the face of SU. 

Be watching in early 2013 for a complete recap of the campaign. In the meantime, explore an interactive map of the campaign’s impact at 

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