A recent gift has pushed Rochester Institute of Technology’s largest fundraising effort over the finish line. The university’s Transforming RIT: The Campaign for Greatness campaign surpassed its $1 billion goal in less than five years.
Alumnus John Traver, co-founder and senior principal scientist at Frame.io, a video review and collaboration platform, recently donated $1 million toward an endowed professorship in the College of Art and Design.
RIT will match the gift with a university fund of $2 million, for a total of $3 million in funding for the John Traver Endowed Professorship, officials say. It is part of a special endowed professorship matching gift program the university put in place last year.
“I see the tremendous value in helping students get to work with the best and brightest professors, based on the opportunities I experienced while attending RIT,” Traver says.
“Technology moves quickly and I’m confident that this gift and the establishment of this professorship will enable faculty to enhance and expand their curricula to meet the ever-growing needs of today’s RIT students,” he adds.
RIT’s campaign was launched publicly in July 2018. A blended campaign, it aims to draw support from a mix of investors including alumni, government and corporate partners, and research foundations and agencies. It backs RIT’s strategic plan, with priorities that include investing in student success, creating world-class facilities, advancing research and discovery, and innovating careers of the future, officials say.
President David Munson says he was confident RIT could reach its goal.
“It’s important to point out, this is a blended campaign,” he says. “So, there’s research funding from the federal government that counts, and various contributions from the state. And, of course, there’s a big chunk of philanthropy. But still, it’s lots of people working hard.
“I was hoping we’d be able to finish it right around now,” he adds. “But with a pandemic, you never know. We’re very pleased with the result.”
The pandemic created roadblocks for many universities and colleges raising funds nationwide.
“There was a period of about probably almost two years where we could not hold large in-person events,” Munson says. “And there was there was even a shorter period where we really couldn’t hold in person events at all.”
Munson spoke to the Beacon from Washington, D.C., where he is promoting FIRST Robotics globally. Roughly 220 people are registered for the event.
“We really missed out on (big events) for a couple of years during the pandemic,” Munson says. “Otherwise, I think we’d be further down the road, but we’re not going to cry over spilled milk; everything is back in high gear.”
Munson, who credits his predecessor, Bill Destler, for securing a transformational gift, views alumnus and trustee Austin McChord’s $50 million donation as an enormous event for the university. A third of McChord’s gift went toward the Student Hall for Exploration and Development, which locates technology, the arts and design in one place. It is the largest construction project in 50 years at RIT.
“Austin provided us some confidence and was the impetus for us being able to undertake that SHED project,” Munson says.
That donation also helped create the ESL Global Cybersecurity Institute, MAGIC Spell Studios, endowed professorships and support for student entrepreneurs.
“If we kind of fast forward to today, we’re working on raising more money for professorships, and we’re starting to get traction there where donors are coming forward to endow professorships, enabling us to retain our best faculty and to hire new faculty who are outstanding in research and scholarship as well as teaching,” Munson says.
Alumnus Jeff Harris, named chair of RIT’s board of trustees in 2021, calls reaching the $1 billion mark “an amazing accomplishment” for the university.
“Let’s not forget this occurred during a global pandemic,” Harris noted. “At RIT we are driving progress and shaping what’s possible. Many thanks to the donors, alumni, students, faculty, staff, and new friends we have discovered who have lifted RIT to new heights.”
The campaign closes June 30. Officials hope RIT will continue to attract funds until then.
“While this campaign is not yet complete, we are truly grateful for each and every donor,” says Phil Castleberry, vice president for university advancement. “We know that a culture of philanthropy and engagement with RIT alumni, campus community members, and friends is vital to our continued success and the upward trajectory of RIT.
“Our many donors have collectively made such a significant impact across this entire campus, helping to ensure that our students continue to receive the top-notch education and experiences that they deserve.”
Now, RIT is working on its performing arts complex, which will feature a 750-seat theater and eventually a 1,500-seat orchestra hall. It has already launched a performing arts program for non-majors, which Munson says goes beyond just music, theater and dance. The first theater has been designed.
“We’re going to be going out to bid soon for that, and it will be a theater that simply doesn’t exist in Upstate New York,” Munson says. “It’s going to be a theater of a different character with different capabilities, and that’s for us a huge subject of our fundraising effort.”
In addition to the initiatives linked with McChord’s gift, the campaign’s successes include:
■ more than $137.7 million to support scholarships and the student experience;
■ a $4.5 million gift from the Polisseni Foundation to support the construction of the Gene Polisseni Center;
■ the Saunders College of Business Challenge and expansion of Lowenthal Hall;
■ increases in collaborative projects and inclusion in statewide and national initiatives that combined for another record year of sponsored research—$92 million; and
■ creation of the Sentinel Society, which recognizes a community of leadership donors who make meaningful annual investments in the university.
Campaign celebrations will be planned for the summer and in the fall at Brick City Homecoming and Family Weekend.
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].