Last year Senior Lun Ou gave away $500 to a student she may never meet.
She donated her award money – the entirety of the 2013 Illinois International Undergraduate Achievement Award she received earlier this semester – because scholarships aren’t about the money.
Scholarships provide exposure to new experiences, Ou said, and help support future industry leaders.
Donating to “I Pay It Forward” student-to-student scholarship campaign, she said, means keeping one more student in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) family.
The brainchild of ACES’ student advancement committee, the month-long “I Pay It Forward: Students Supporting Students” campaign helps provide scholarships funded by student donations, according to ACES associate director of advancement Stacey Cole.
Held for the first time in April 2014, the “I Pay It Forward” campaign got more than 1,100 donors – 900 of whom were fellow Illinois students – and raised about $17,000 in 30 days to support need-based scholarships for agriculture students.
“The funds were put to use immediately,” Cole said, adding that 17 students each received $1,000. “All students were at-risk of having to leave college due to financial hardship.”
This year’s fundraising campaign kicked off on April 1 with more than 200 students attending, Cole said, with several events planned for the month. (Watch a video about the campaign here.)
“This will really be for the kids who fall in the middle, like so many of us do,” Cole said.
With financial help from ACES, Ou has traveled to Brazil, China, India and Sierra Leone studying global food security.
The agriculture and consumer economics major planned to live in Paris in 2015 to continue her work on international trade policy as it relates to agricultural development.
ACES believed in her enough to send her to study the world.
Now it’s her turn to help provide the same opportunity for someone else.
“I cannot see a better way to spend my $500,” Ou, an international student from China, said.
The “I Pay It Forward” scholarships – based on application and individual student need – were awarded in Fall 2014 by administrators to incoming freshmen, transfer students and current students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to stay at the college.
During the campaign donors’ names – written on orange and white paper “I-Bucks” – lined the walls of the ACES library’s center atrium and snake up the stairs to its second floor.
Students like agricultural finance alumna Sondra Monier, who participated in last year’s campaign as a senior, walked into lecture halls filled with more than 200 students, challenging her peers to be the first one to donate one dollar.
After the first hand went up, more than half the class donated something to the campaign, she said. Even the professor matched student donations.
That didn’t surprise agriculture business senior Preston Brown.
“We have a culture of really high-quality, ‘pay-forward’ minded people,” Brown said. “I think this campaign is just proving that.”
Brown helped launch the “I Pay It Forward” effort (he’s the unbelievably excited face you might have seen on the ACES “I Pay It Forward” signage last year), but he was also the chairman of Orange Krush, a student-run charitable organization that combines philanthropy and pride for the Fighting Illini men’s basketball team.
Orange Krush members ask donors to pledge money for every 3-point shot the men’s basketball team scores during the season. The student group has donated more than $2.5 million to local and national charities over 15 Illinois basketball seasons.
Illinois students also give back through the 1867 Society, another student-led philanthropy organization that supports campus-based projects like the Illini Service Dogs program. Anyone who donates and is enrolled in classes at the university – undergraduate, graduate, alumni – is considered an 1867 Society member.
“This is going to help develop leaders,” Brown said of the “I Pay It Forward” campaign. “I think that’s what (ACES) does, and this gives someone the opportunity to get in our door and become a leader in our industry.”
Illinois alumna Carlee Silver, last year’s chair of the ACES student advancement committee, had her own long list of the scholarship support she received so that she could study agriculture finance at Illinois.
A scholarship is not just money, she said.
“Someone saw something in you valuable enough to invest in you,” Silver said. “It’s a support and knowing people believe in you.”