Philadelphia native Kimberly Abney will be the first to tell you she wasn’t ready for the academic challenges ahead when she came to Bloomsburg University. Abney arrived six weeks before fall classes began to attend the university’s Act 101/Educational Opportunity Program, designed to help students prepare for college. After earning a 3.0 grade point average in the summer program, Abney thought she was ready.
But problems soon arose. She was a part of a group of girls who always traveled around campus together, skipping class and getting into trouble for pulling pranks, and Abney kept getting into trouble. Soon, she was on academic probation with a 0.58 GPA.
“My friends started leaving. The first one left after the second semester and three more left the next semester. I was embarrassed when I had to spend the summer after my freshman year at Community College of Philadelphia,” Abney recalls. “When you start seeing your friends not completing the goal we all set out to complete, which was to obtain a degree, it wakes you up. I knew I had to shape up.”
Kimberly Abney did “shape up.” With help from BU’s Academic Support Services, she maintained a 2.5 GPA and, in 2009, earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology – graduating on time with the rest of her class. She then earned a master’s degree from Eastern University in Philadelphia. Today, Abney is a certified school counselor for a private charter school in Philadelphia, working with students in need of emotional and behavioral support.
Abney never forgot how Bloomsburg helped her mature and succeed. And she wanted to give back.
She got her chance through a BU Named Virtual Endowed Scholarship. Under the program, donors give four annual gifts of at least $1,000 for a student scholarship and commit to a minimum deferred/planned gift of $25,000 for a permanent endowment. Donors can select eligibility criteria for recipients, such as a field of study.
Abney’s scholarship will be given to a student who, like her, attended the Act 101/EOP and has a GPA of at least 2.5. She’ll be able to read the application essays and see firsthand the good she is doing. The Kimberly Abney College Fund will make its first award of $1,000 in 2017.
“There may be students struggling the way I did, and knowledge of this scholarship may give them a goal and something to work toward,” says Abney, who financed her own education through loans. “I want to give something back.”
In the wake of decreasing public funding for higher education, the Virtual Endowment program is one way BU is offering for all alumni – even those, like Abney, who are just starting their careers – to get involved and help students.
It’s the direct connection between alumni and students that is at the heart of It’s Personal: The Campaign for Bloomsburg University, a $50 million fundraising effort. A key part of the It’s Personal campaign is letting the Husky community know that gifts of all sizes are significant.
“A $1,000 scholarship can have a meaningful impact on a student’s life,” says Jerome Dvorak, executive director of the Bloomsburg University Foundation, which oversees the It’s Personal campaign. “It can be the difference between someone attending or being forced to drop out.”
When Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education was formed in 1983, made up of Bloomsburg and 13 sister institutions, 65 percent of all funding came from the state. Today, that figure has dropped to 25 percent while costs – to universities and students alike – have increased.
“In the 1970s a student could work in the summer and earn enough to attend school in the fall. That’s not the case anymore,” Dvorak says. The current annual in-state tuition is $17,806 and the average student graduates with $29,661 in debt. “Scholarships allow us to admit students on their ability … not their ability to pay.”
To make a significant impact, Dvorak says, an annual scholarship should provide at least $1,000 each year. That requires a minimum endowment of $25,000 to ensure adequate interest to cover the scholarship. Setting up a named endowment is frequently a part of estate planning.
For the It’s Personal campaign, however, BU wants to increase its endowment while immediately recognizing donors, so the BU Foundation pioneered the Virtual Endowment. “We started testing the concept of Virtual Endowments three years ago as a way donors could see the good the money is doing right now,” Dvorak says. “And the deferred $25,000 gift ensures their philanthropic legacy will continue.”
Using the same gift guidelines, BU created the Virtual Professional Experience Grants. These grants support students taking part in internships, research projects and international study.
BU is also using the power of the Internet with the BU Foundation’s new crowdfunding site, TakeActionBU. Donors can support various projects and causes and leave messages for the students they’re helping.
“I like to tell people that I’m in the business of fulfilling dreams,” Dvorak says, “donor’s dreams to help someone and student’s dreams to graduate.”
For Abney, the opportunity to go to Bloomsburg changed her life.
“Bloomsburg is such a good university – I met some great people who are still in my life,” says Abney, 28. “I knew I wanted to give back. Someone told me that I’m probably the youngest person funding a scholarship.”
Abney’s plans to help students go beyond her scholarship. She wants to create a mentoring program called TGIF – Thank Goodness I’m Female – to help others overcome the issues she and her friends faced as they adjusted to a college environment.
“I’m grateful to Bloomsburg,” Abney says. “Bloomsburg helped me get to where I am today and made me who I am today.” •
Jack Sherzer is a professional writer and principal partner with Message Prose, a communications and public relations firm in Harrisburg.
How to help
To learn how you can show your Husky pride and directly help students through It’s Personal: The Campaign for Bloomsburg, go to itspersonal.bloomu.edu