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Giving As Good As You Got

By Cassi Hunt

As our seniors prepare to say goodbye, I wonder if, somewhere stuffed in their brains with all the Greek letters and equals signs, is the one important skill possessed by all successful scientists, engineers, and businessmen alike: the fine art of begging for money. Whether it be for a grant or raise or accounts to manage, money makes things happen, and the same is true at the Institvte. That’s why every senior class creates and funds a class gift, something to leave behind for generations of tools to come.

The TechCallers program, led at the time by Rosheen B. Kavanagh, first introduced me to the world of the Alumni Association — where MIT gets its bling from. Two nights a week, I marched into Building 10 and called up alumni to keep them up to date on the goings on here at 77 Mass. Ave. and, ultimately, to convince them to give back to MIT by donating to one of the school’s funds, including their class gift. But getting a senior class gift started isn’t easy.

“The senior gift is very difficult to get students involved in,” says Rosheen. And no wonder — graduation is just the time when student loans come back to haunt seniors. Putting more money into MIT might seem like too great a strain.

But other top schools still manage a high percentage of participants in their senior gift. Up the river Harvard averages 60%, and across the country CalTech brings together about 58%. Last year, only 27.5% of MIT seniors contributed to their class gift. I was shocked when I heard these numbers, especially because, let’s face it: an MIT degree is far more awesome.

Rosheen agrees, and this year she decided to do something about it. She got together a group of seniors to come up with a campaign to promote the senior gift. Their chair is Ryan F. Allard ’06, a former TechCaller and therefore skilled in the art of convincing people they’ve got some cash to spare.

“It’s not the amount of money they’re giving, it’s that they are giving,” Rosheen explained to me. It’s about building a “spirit of philanthropy” towards the school and students who’ve made this place the amazing experience it is. The class of 2006, via online polls, decided overwhelmingly that they wanted to support scholarships. “Student life was also a priority” to students, Rosheen says, so these two ideas were combined into a scholarship to be awarded to a senior that contributes to MIT student life. But could the senior gift committee make it a success?

Once, as the semester was winding down and the amount of work was winding up, I remember wandering back from Hayden during those vague hours when today becomes yesterday. I saw committee member Charlie Val charging down the infinite with a stapler in one hand and a pile of posters in the other. “I have to hang these by tomorrow or Rosheen’s going to kill me,” he explained in passing.

Now that’s dedication.

Besides posters, the committee used e-mail and postcards to get word out about the gift. You’ve probably seen their booth in Lobby 10. The result?

As of Wednesday, the Class of 2006 had already set a record with 50.6% participation, raising $11,710. “People don’t realize how much of a big deal the Alumni Association and Susan Hockfield think this is,” Rosheen told me, getting more animated as she spoke. “A lot of that has to do with the committee… and we have cool t-shirts!”

She has reason to be excited — every five percent of the class means an extra $5,000 for the senior gift. This money comes from Scott Marks ’68, the 2006 “Class Challenger.” Because of the hard work of the senior gift committee and the generosity of the class of 2006, Rosheen decided to raise the goal to 50% participation. “An extra $20,000 would be great,” she beamed.

Well, the period for the Class Challenger has ended and the results are in — the class of 2006 did it! They surpassed the 50% mark and the figure is still rising. Rosheen had no doubts. “This class has united to make a difference at MIT. They know how important giving is.”

All too soon, the only image we’ll see of MIT will be the one etched on the side of our brass rats. Four years ago, the class of 2006 was sold on MIT and descended on Cambridge like so many pigs to the slaughter. This spring they exited as prize hams and the senior gift committee has sold them on MIT all over again. So here’s to the class of 2006, the senior gift committee, and the incomparable Rosheen Kavanagh for showing MIT and the world what this school means to us. IHTFP!