From Monday, Feb. 16 to Thursday, Feb. 19, the Office of Stewardship held an event in Buntrock Commons for students who have received endowed scholarships and Interim funding to craft thank-you notes for their respective scholarship donors.
“It’s a way of saying thank you, but also giving the donors the chance to see the impact of their gift,” said Lisa Carey, Stewardship Coordinator and organizer of the card collection and creation. “They are people who believe in the experience and believe in the students, and that people care about supporting their efforts… It’s important to show gratitude to those who have given something to you.”
While this year the program received increased press coverage by St. Olaf College media, the program was first started in 2006. Since its beginning, the program has enjoyed a 95 to 97 percent turnout rate of students coming to create the cards for their donors, a higher statistic than similar programs at other colleges and universities. Generally, the event generates 700 notes per year.
“We are thankful to the students who show up and make it important. It speaks a lot to their integrity,” Carey said.
The cards themselves are part of a three-step annual interaction between the Office of Stewardship, the students and the donors. The first part is a survey that goes out to the scholarship recipients, asking questions relating to why they chose to attend St. Olaf, what their favorite memories at the college have been and content that probes into their interests. This information is generated into a personal profile for the student, completed by a photograph of the student, which is sent to the donor, so that the donor can learn more about the student they are sponsoring.
The second piece to this “jigsaw puzzle” is Greetings and Gratitude Week, where the students are thoroughly encouraged to create their personalized thank-you note. Design wise, there are four possible images to choose from, two freshly plucked from the St. Olaf natural lands and two from the student winners of the international photography contest. Once they select a card, the students update their donors on how first semester and Interim have gone, and they are encouraged to enclose pictures from any study abroad programs they may have experienced in those terms. Students who are abroad during this time can send in pictures from their studying locations and descriptions of their research or reflections on the experience.
“They the donors love to see that impact, that the students literally get to go to France, let’s say. This student got to do this research, and this student was able to do these things here. It’s about connecting the dots and making the connections for both sides.”
The impact, however, is not one-sided: through the process of making the notes, the students are provided with individual sheets that detail the history, lineage and significance of the scholarships they receive, so that they can see where they will also fit into its legacy, whether it is to honor the education of a music major or it is a recognition for being from Iowa.
The third interaction is that the donors are invited to Honors Day in May. If the donors decide to attend, then the student they sponsor is also invited, and they will have the opportunity to meet. As the scholarships are created for a variety of reasons and sometimes in memory of those who have already passed away, the donor will be whoever the living contact is for the scholarship. For those who have received the same scholarship several years in a row, it is a reunion for a bond already begun through cards and Honors Days past.
“Students do pretty cool stuff… it’s fun to get to tell the story,” Carey said.