When the members of Western Carolina University’s Foundation Board of Directors decided to endow a scholarship, they didn’t have to look far for inspiration. “Someone suggested we do this in honor of David and Susan Belcher because Dr. Belcher had been so keen on promoting endowments since he came to Western Carolina,” said board member Bob Thomas, who made the first contribution to get the money flowing.
That was at the May board meeting. Some five months later, the WCU Foundation Board of Directors Endowed Scholarship now stands at $25,151, just over $25,000, the amount needed to be endowed. “That was a noble goal,” Thomas said. “The committee agreed that it should be a requirement for all board members to give. We hope new members would be required to give. That way we keep building and reach $100,000.”
Among the criteria for recipients of the new scholarship is they must be a first-generation college student, have demonstrated a financial need and maintain a 3.0 or better GPA.
Thomas said Belcher, the late former chancellor who died of brain cancer in June, changed the thinking on campus about scholarships when he arrived at WCU in 2011 and after he and his wife, Susan, made their own personal pledge of $1.23 million to the “Lead the Way” campaign. “This was Dr. Belcher’s number one priority from the first month he was here,” said Thomas. “We were very low on endowed scholarships, relative to other institutions in the University of North Carolina System. We’ve come out of being a state school where we didn’t really have a culture of philanthropy to where we’re beginning to build that in various ways.”
Thomas credits Belcher with promoting the idea that philanthropy begins freshman year, not 30 years after a student has graduated from college. The other change, he said, is that government spending on education has receded. “It used to be a given that the state of North Carolina funded the university and all of its needs,” said Thomas, who graduated in 1970 from WCU with a bachelor’s degree in history. “The idea of making a donation to a school was not a big idea until Dr. Belcher got here.”
Thomas said he and his wife, Pam, have set up an endowed scholarship for WCU Honors College students who are majoring in either engineering or business. Meeting the students who are recipients of their donation makes a big difference. “You can see a human face, a student’s face,” he said. “You understand the need and you can understand what they’re trying to achieve. That makes you feel really good.”
To give to the Lead the Way Campaign, please visit here or contact the WCU Division of Advancement at 828.227.7124 or firstname.lastname@example.org.