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Oklahoma State University

The official magazine of Oklahoma State University

Branding Success - The Campaign for OSU

Branded Success

OSU's seven-year fundraising campaigh exceeds $1.2 billion and 104,000 donors

Story by Jacob Longan

Mia Winfree didn't think of herself as a potential OSU donor last August. In fact, she was a recent Westmoore High School graduate still transitioning into college life as she sat in New Student Orientation and Enrollment.

She and her alumnus father, Kersey, were enjoying a meal at the ConocoPhillips OSU Alumni Center when they noticed a sign advertising annual Alumni Association memberships.

"I paid $25, and I got a book of coupons," the freshman says. "I thought it was interesting, but I didn't know much about it."

On Nov. 15, she was publicly recognized as the 100,000th donor to Branding Success: The Campaign for Oklahoma State University. She watched OSU's football game against Texas from club-level seats with her mother, Jana. She also stood in front of more than 50,000 fans inside Boone Pickens Stadium and conducted the Cowboy Marching Band.

"Even as a freshman, I'm already starting to make gifts because I've fallen in love with OSU," Winfree says. "And I am so proud to have been a part of such a massive fundraising effort."

By the time Branding Success ended on December 31, gifts and pledges totaled $1,201,729,095.61. That staggering amount came from 104,114 individuals and corporate partners, including nearly 45,000 first-time donors. 

"Transformational is almost an understatement as I look back and see how much Oklahoma State University has achieved and changed over the past seven years," says OSU President Burns Hargis. "I'm particularly pleased that we attracted support from so many first-time donors who became engaged with us as result of Branding Success."

Gifts and pledges during the seven-year campaign addressed needs on all five campuses in the OSU system. The primary funding priorities were divided into the four key areas of student, facility, faculty and program support. 


Goal: $500M / FINAL: $594.8M

Nearly half of the campaign's total came from the $594.8 million designated for scholarships, vastly exceeding the area's initial goal of $500 million. That established 1,180 scholarship and graduate-fellowship funds, which combine to help thousands of students each year since many of these endowments support multiple recipients.

For example, the McKnight Leader Scholars program was established with a generous $10 million gift from Branding Success co-chairs Billie and Ross McKnight, an alumni couple from Throckmorton, Texas. The program supports about 50 students annually, providing a full out-of-state tuition waiver for four years, $5,000 for each of student's first two years at OSU and opportunities to develop essential leadership skills through exclusive coursework and seminars. 

Parker Schultz was part of the inaugural class of McKnight Scholars during his freshman year in 2011. The Wichita Falls, Texas, native is now on the verge of graduating with a Spears School of Business finance degree including minors in accounting and international business. He has also accepted a job with Phillips 66 in Houston. 

"One of the biggest reasons why I came to OSU was because of the McKnight Scholarship," Schultz says."It opened a lot of doors for jobs and internships and different things on campus. It was a really great experience to get in with a good group of people early on, and I've kept those connections through my entire four years."

Schultz says people he met in the McKnight Scholars program became some of his best friends, including two roommates. 

The program and his own experience with it also brought his sister, Libby, to Stillwater. She is now a freshman McKnight Scholar.

"I can't say enough about how much I've enjoyed all four years here at OSU," Schultz says. "I'm not sure I'm ready to leave and get a real job yet. The McKnights are a big reason why I'm here. I am really grateful that they have given their time and money for me, my friends and my sister to be here."


GOAL: $200M / FINAL: $293M

Facility support accounted for the second-largest portion of the campaign with $293 million in commitments dwarfing the initial goal of $200 million. These funds are used to build, renovate, equip and maintain facilities to provide better environments for teaching, learning and researching with an emphasis on enhancing the student experience.

One example is the Chesapeake Energy Natural Gas Compression Training Center. The $23,920 square-foot, $4.9-million building is the newest addition to the OSU Institute of Technology campus in Okmulgee. This industry dream became a reality thanks to Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy and other major gifts from Devon Energy, ONEOK and Energy Transfer. It is equipped with state-of-the-art technology, machinery and tools so students are ready to work in the natural gas industry immediately after graduating. 

It features massive compression skids along the back of the room and dual 30-ton-capacity overhead cranes to move them, creating an atmosphere that simulates the field. Two classrooms offer additional instructional workspace. The building also houses an auditorium with modern video technology and a conference room for faculty to meet with company partners. 

In April, T.J. Potter completed his associate degree in applied science through the natural gas compression program and countless hours in this facility. He is now working on a business degree with an emphasis in oil and gas management.

"Having this new building, you're up to date and have the technology that's out there today," Potter says. "It's also quite a bit bigger than the old facility. They have brought in complete packages for us to work on, which is a big advantage of this building compared to the old one."

The Elk City, Oklahoma, native says OSUIT's natural gas compression program is "pretty amazing" and a great way to start a career. 

"I definitely want to thank Chesapeake and all of the donors for providing the opportunity for us to work in this building," Potter adds. "It has definitely helped us get hands-on training and experience like we're going to find out there in the real world."


GOAL: $200M / FINAL: $188.2M

Faculty support accounted for the $188.2 million toward the $200 million goal. These funds created 146 new chairs and professorships, increasing OSU's total number of endowed faculty positions to 306. These prestigious designations recognize the best teachers and most innovative researchers. Faculty members greatly value holding endowed positions, which provide ongoing support for increased salaries, hiring graduate assistants, purchasing equipment, funding travel and covering other academic and research needs.

Tyler Ley is a 2000 alumnus who returned to his alma mater in 2007 as assistant professor of structural engineering in the College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology. He performs world-class research on concrete, producing practical findings that decrease costs and increase safety for its countless uses such as roads, bridges and buildings. 

He was promoted to associate professor in 2012 and has earned many awards and honors, highlighted by the National Science Foundation Career award, the ACI Walter P. Moore Faculty Achievement Award and the OSU Regents Distinguished Research Award. 

In 2013, he added another when he was named Williams Foundation Professor in Civil Engineering. That position was established by a 2008 gift of $350,000 from the foundation of Williams, a Tulsa-based energy company. Including matches from T. Boone Pickens and the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, the total impact is more than $1.4 million in endowed funds. 

"To recieve this title is such an honor," Ley says. "It provides additional tools to do my job and help my students more than I could before. I have used this funding to buy and fix equipment, and also to pay for students to attend conferences and meetings. Having that money available helps me immediately keep everything running and keep the team going. It allows me to teach my classes more smoothly and give my students opportunities that they wouldn't usually have."

He adds, "Being a professor is extremely complicated and diverse. This money helps us overcome some of the challenges. They improve the quality of our teaching and our research by doing so many different things that are great for the students."

Making this professorship even more meaningful to the native Oklahoman is the great respect he has for Williams, which earned worldwide attention in the 1980s for its ingenuity in running fiber-optic cable through decommissioned pipelines. That idea helped build the foundation for modern-day telecommunication networks. 

"I have always looked up to Williams," Ley says. "And even during my undergraduate time, I noticed they have a long history of being involved at OSU. I really like what they stand for and what they've been able to do."


GOAL: $100M / FINAL: $125.7M

Donors designated $125.7 million for program support, which began with a $100 million goal. These investments in academic excellence have created innovative, interdisciplinary programs that make the most of OSU's considerable strengths. 

Just one example is the Riata Center for Entrepreneurship, established by a $57.2 million gift from alumni Amy and Malone Mitchell 3rd to support academics and athletics in 2008. It created both the Riata Center and the OSU Department of Entrepreneurship in the Spears School of Business.

The Riata Center includes a dedicated staff of professionals who foster the spirit of entrepreneurship through innovative outreach programs. The team is dedicated to high-impact entrepreneurial outreach on campus, in the region, around Oklahoma and across America. The center is intimately engaged with the entrepreneurial community and strongly committed to creating unique experiential learning opportunites for students. 

One aspect is the Student Startup Center, which provides a support system for launching entrepreneurial dreams. Companies that have launched can apply for a free office in the Riata New Venture Incubator. One of the current residents is Life Out of the Box, which funds school supplies for kids in developing countries by selling handmade bracelets produced by artisans from those countries. 

The company's founders are Quinn Vandenberg and Jonathan Button, two California natives who came to OSU because of the premier entrepreneurship program. 

"Right before we moved to Nicaragua to start our business, I wanted to study the art of entrepreneurship program — highest ranking, lowest cost and online courses," Button says. "That was OSU. I was taking classes online while we were traveling all around Nicaragua, Guatemala and Morocco. We came to Stillwater for my graduation, and they told us about the Student Startup Center. They invited us to bring our business here, and Quinn could get her master's while we learned as much as possible to create the business we've always dreamed of."

Button is now in the Master of Business Administration program while Vandenberg is a Student Startup Center graduate assistant earning a master's in entrepreneurship. They say the unique education, experiences and expertise OSU provides is invaluable to the success of their business. In less than three years, they have donated to more than 3,000 children around the world, and their goal is to help another 10,000 this year. 

"We are here in large part because of the donation the Mitchells made," Vandenberg says. "That's what made this program so special. The things you get here you can't get anywhere else, and it's not even that expensive. It's amazing. It's such a great opportunity for anyone."


Branding Success began December 4, 2007, when Hargis was announced as the 18th president at his alma mater. After a two-year quiet phase, it was officially unveiled to the public on February 26, 2010. That is when Pickens announced a $100 million challenge gift for scholarship commitments before October 31, 2010. He subsequently extended the deadline to February 26, 2011, and added another $20 million in matching funds in response to more than 2,600 donors committing more than $71.5 million for scholarships and graduate fellowships. 

It was reminiscent of the summer of 2008, when Pickens announced his first $100 million challenge gift, this time for endowed faculty positions. In just 40 days, more than 900 donors combined for another $68 million to take advantage of matches by Pickens and the State Regents for Higher Education. 

"With state support remaining stagnant, we rely on the generosity of our alumni and friends to help the university create new opportunities for students at Oklahoma State," says Kirk Jewell, president of the OSU Foundation. "Today our students have more financial assistance available than ever before, but the campaign will have a lasting, positive impact on future generations of students as well."

Among the new facilites created during the campaign is the Michael and Anne Greenwood Tennis Center. It opened in 2014, featuring six indoor courts and 12 outdoor courts. A tweet from the United States Tennis Association declared it one of the top two collegiate facilities in the nation. 

The Spears School of Business, which actively incorporates technology into the curriculum and seeks input from leaders in business and government to help create industry-driven degrees, will have a new home soon. Construction began in 2014 on a new building that will transform how students learn and faculty teach.

Work continues on the addition of a third wing to the College of Human Sciences building. Human Sciences is a leader in hospitality, merchandising, nutrition and human development. The revitalized space will allow students and faculty to forge new relationships with industry and professional partners while pushing the boundaries of social and scientific research and technology transfer. 

Other universitywide enhancements included expanded study abroad opportunities thanks to a $6 million donation from Donald and Cathey Humphreys, as well as academic advising services through the Learning and Student Success Opportunities (LASSO) Center. 

LASSO features the Paul Milburn Tutoring Program, which was established by a $1 million gift from Alumnus Paul Milburn and his wife, Ann. They are passionate about students who need a little extra academic help. Their favorite part of the tutoring program is that it is free for any student.

"When I was in school, sometimes I'd have more problems with one subject than with all the rest of them put together," says Paul Milburn, adding personal attention helps students succeed instead of withdrawing in frustration. "If a student drops out, that's a stigma that affects their future, whereas if they finish they make a bigger contribution to society, their families, and the future of the state."

The Milburns say it is "wonderful" that they are in a position to help others succeed. They are also glad that they contributed to Branding Success

"We are proud of the way the university has grown in every sense over the past seven years," they say. "The university's leadership and generosity of donors has been truly amazing, and we are so glad that we were able to play a part in this effort to help more students."


In 2007, Hargis' plan for OSU to raise $1 billion in seven years was considered bold even before the markets crashed and the economy crumbled. But Branding Success exceeded every expectation because of the unprecedented generosity of more than 100,000 people and companies. 

The value of $1.2 billion is staggering. Consider that it would take 38 years to count that much money at a rate of $1 per second. 

Winfree has thought about what was accomplished by such a large group working together. 

"I think most people don't understand the magnitude of what they are doing when they make a gift," Winfree says. "They don't realize that even if they donate just a little, it does so much good for our school." 

Amanda Davis, the OSU Foundation's associate vice president of annual giving, says the vast majority of OSU's donors give less than $25,000 per year. These annual giving donors number more than 18,000 and collectively give between $10 million and $12 million per year.

"There is so much power in everyone coming together," David says. "Their contributions provide flexibility for the university to meet it's most immediate needs. They also make an incredible statement to the rest of the country and to the world that our alumni support us and that we are one Cowboy family together."

Jewell says Branding Success will do even more good for OSU in the future than we can see now because of the way it has transformed the university while uniting those who love this land-grant institution.

"Every aspect of the university benefitted," he says. "Each gift helps OSU produce a better education at a lower cost. These resources and the huge group of people who provided them have built a foundation that will empower the university to achieve amazing things for decades."

Winfree is one person who brings together many aspects of this story. As a young student, she is seeing immediate benefits from the campaign. As a donor, she takes pride in having made a contribution toward tomorrow's success. As a future alumna, she looks forward to watching OSU continue to grow. And as a proud member of the Cowboy family, she is already thinking about which areas she wants to support with donations.

"I think I'll make another gift next year," she says. "I will continue to make contributions. Eventually, I'd like to help renovate a building or something. Our campus is beautiful, but maybe I can add more art."

Davis says the Mia Winfrees of today are the Boone Pickenses of tomorrow.

"Every supporter starts somewhere and serves as an example for other who are like them," Davis says. "Mia and her peers are our future more than anyone else. So the fact that students like her are stepping forward to join the Student Alumni Association and make their first philanthropic gifts before they even become alumni is incredibly powerful."