Guest Opinion: Philanthropy: not just giant checks for the UI

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If you asked me before college to think about what a philanthropist is, I probably would have pictured famous and outrageously wealthy people, holding comically outsized checks — like Bill Gates or Tony Stark, the genius billionaire-playboy-philanthropist. Now that I’ve been a member of the University of Iowa Foundation’s Student Philanthropy Group, my understanding is a little more sophisticated. Philanthropy is not just about transferring wealth, it’s also about how our community personally sees its students’ stories through to their best possible next chapters.

I came to Iowa on scholarship as an overeager pre-med student and am now graduating as a possibly less obnoxious software engineer. From the start, scholarships gave me the flexibility to expand my class schedule instead of restricting myself to required classes and mixing financial stress with existing freshman stumbles. I learned to code for the first time here, and that sense of security let me explore programming as a serious option, feel confident in taking a semester off for an internship at Microsoft, and finally pivot into a field that really suited me.

As a member of Student Philanthropy Group, I’ve had the opportunity to meet donors who support scholarships and other critical resources at the UI, connecting the faces and names (alumni, faculty, Iowa City natives, and other friends of the university) with philanthropy. Very few of them are huge celebrities or fabulously wealthy — they’re just generous people who care. Being one of the lucky students who gets to thank them face-to-face has made concrete for me the fact that, as UI students, we have hundreds of people who believe in us, are tangibly pushing for us to reach our goals, and are personally invested in making that path easier.

It has been exciting for me to be encouraged in this way, and I see their example as a challenge. I hope you will join me in meeting their faith in us with our own spirit, kindness, and pride in ourselves and our university, and eventually, our own philanthropy.

Elaine Mou

Student Philanthropy Group Class of 2017

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