The university here announced its first-ever comprehensive campaign, aiming to raise $35 million in the next five years.

The university here announced its first-ever comprehensive campaign, aiming to raise $35 million in the next five years.

The campaign, Imagine Tomorrow, is planned to gather financial gifts and pledges for Bemidji State University as the university intends to raise $20 million for scholarships — triple that of the current scholarship level — $8 million for academic program enhancement and $7 million for annual support.

The campaign was unveiled Friday afternoon at a news conference at the American Indian Resource Center on the BSU campus.

"Campaigns are based on the generosity primarily of alums and philanthropy of corporations and organizations," said Richard Hanson, president of BSU and Northwest Technical College. "What you have to do is get in their head and get in their heart."

Hanson hails from institutions that have embarked on similar campaigns, but said the BSU Foundation already was moving in this direction when he was named president in 2010.

"I didn't bring the idea; I just brought some of the energy," Hanson said.

According to a BSU news release, the foundation for several years has been researching educational trends, interviewing alumni and seeking financial commitments in preparation for such a campaign.

Campaign chairman Dave Sorensen, a 1972 BSU alumnus who retired as a vice president of General Mills, said alumni have acknowledged how their college experience transformed their lives, business and well-being.

"As a result of that, they very willingly have stepped up to say, 'What can we do to help you advance and continue the great learning experience that occurs here, the great life experience that occurs here, at Bemidji State University,' " said Sorenson, now president of David L. Sorensen LLC.

Twenty-five alums now serve on the Imagine Tomorrow National Steering Committee.

"(Friday marked) the first time the committee got together and it was interesting, as we went around the room and people told the stories as to why they got connected with the campaign, it was very personal," said Mike Roberge, a 1990 BSU alum who is chairman of the committee. "These are people that live on the East Coast, the West Coast, Canada and haven't been here for a long time, but once a connection was made, they feel it's their obligation to give back.

"I'm really excited about where we go from here."

University officials acknowledged $35 million is a steep goal, but said they were confident it could be met.

"When we make calls on people we're interested in, we're showing them what the university provides and the nature of the place, and the difference we make in the lives of students, so if they get a hold of that, they'll be supporters," Hanson said.

Students themselves also will be involved in the campaign, mainly at a local level along with university faculty and staff.

Rob Bollinger, executive director of the foundation, said students can provide the greatest impact when, as scholarship recipients, they meet — and thank — their scholarship donors.

"(That's) really a magical time," Bollinger said.

In addition to providing a human connection, BSU hopes those moments will affect scholarship recipients enough to cause them to want to support the university themselves as they move past graduation.

"It's really affecting much more than just the immediate (individual)," Bollinger said.

Financial intentions

Of the $35 million planned to be raised in total, $20 million is slated for scholarships.

Noting the average BSU student owes about $24,000 upon graduation, the university is aiming to provide more affordable access for more students.

About 83 percent of BSU students receive some form of financial aid, but students are still working part-time jobs, which can impact their performance in the classroom, BSU reported.

Priority areas for scholarships include increased support for financially challenged and first-generation college students; STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students; additional merit-based scholarships, awarded based on academic performance; athletics; and American Indian students, according to BSU literature.

An additional $8 million is planned to go toward "academic excellence," or academic program enhancement.

Priority areas here include American Indian studies; nursing; business programs; expanded international experiences and academic programming; departmental endowments; and a proposed leadership academy.
The $7 million earmarked for annual support would be used for other needs, such as technology, athletics and learning resources.