Most of the gifts Saint John's University receives from our generous alumni and friends are the result of specific requests from either the president or members of the Institutional Advancement team. But every now and then something comes "out of the blue" that both surprises and delights us. Like the email I received on December 7, 2013, from an alumnus who expressed his strong desire to establish an endowed fund in support of a new annual lecture series. Having graduated from Saint John's in the 70s with a degree in natural science, he was interested in helping current (and future!) Johnnies and Bennies gain exposure to cutting-edge science topics, with the goal of increasing their overall science literacy.
The donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, also proposed that he be given the opportunity to name the endowed fund in honor of one of his favorite and most inspiring professors at Saint John's, Dr. Norman Ford. We were only too happy to oblige. I had the privilege of contacting the retired Dr. Ford (who, with his wife, Billie, now splits his time between Minnesota and Texas) to share this exciting news and to obtain his permission to name the lecture series in his honor. As you can imagine, Dr. Ford was extremely grateful and humbled that a former student would make such a significant investment in the education of our science students, and pay tribute to a former professor and mentor in the process.
So with not one but three significant gifts over the course of the past year, the donor officially established the Dr. Norman Ford Science Literacy Lecture Series Endowed Fund. The earnings from this fund will support an annual lecture for generations of students, the first of which is scheduled for the evening of Tuesday, September 29, 2015. Dr. Michael Osterholm, who holds the McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair in Public Health at the University of Minnesota and is director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (and the speaker selection committee's first choice!), will address the topic of infectious diseases and preventive mechanisms. In addition to the many faculty and science majors who will attend the inaugural event, Dr. Ford -- surrounded by family, friends, alums and former colleagues -- will be present to be honored and to celebrate the launch of the new lecture series that now bears his name. It will be quite a celebration, and you are invited to attend.
Another interesting, and unexpected, benefit from this gift has surfaced. Shortly after Dean Karen Erickson assembled a group of science faculty to serve as the ad hoc speaker selection committee, she discovered that this gift "is providing a real lift to our science faculty...and serves as a tangible example of our support for the sciences during a time when we are reviewing the Natural Science major program. It is allowing a cross-departmental discussion for faculty who very much want that larger conversation about the sciences."
Little did this dedicated donor know the multi-layered impact he would have on our academic community when he made his generous gift. From enlightened students, to energized faculty, to an honored professor -- this gift is a philanthropic trifecta.