The University of Houston Magazine

Event Gives Students Chance to THANK DONORS

Philanthropy Awareness Day Stresses Importance of Private Support.

by Kelli Gifford

Teacher taking pictures of UH StudentsEach year, the University of Houston’s donors contribute, through a charitable gift, to the 36 percent gap in the cost of UH students’ education that is not funded by tuition, fees and state support. The most generous, transformational gifts allow UH to go above and beyond for excellence. So this year, the Office of Annual Giving hosted Philanthropy Awareness Day to educate students about private support and offer them a chance to say thank you.

“It’s about thanking all those donors who so generously give each year, even if it’s just a couple of dollars a month,” said Liz Castro (’09), young alumni coordinator for the Office of Annual Giving. “We are a better university because these contributors make an effort to support UH and its students, whether from generosity or loyalty. All gifts make a difference for UH.”

More than 400 students attended the event, where they were able to write out thank-you cards for donors, sign a large banner, and, at the same time, get free food and have the chance to win prizes. But some students just wanted to pay their regards.

“You don’t often get the chance to say thank you for all the support of the programs you get to enjoy every day. This is a great opportunity, said freshman Larysa Kruijs.

The event started with a small parade from the Welcome Center to the University Center with the UH Spirit of Houston Cougar Marching Band, and, of course, Shasta. Two large bows year adorned the front of the M.D. Anderson Library, showing people campuswide what their donations can do. During the library’s renovation campaign, more than 7,000 donors came together to raise more than $20 million. UH Athletics showed its gratitude by displaying a large bow in the main entry of the Athletics/Alumni Center, in addition to bows spread throughout the facility’s weight rooms, student lounges, study labs, and even the tennis courts and batting cages. Next year, Castro hopes to see more bows around campus to represent other gifts.

Student volunteers were on hand to spread the message to everyone passing by.

“They were really doing a great job explaining what the day was about and how the donations directly impact the tuition,” said Castro. “We had a chart to show the students how tuition and fees work in the UH budget, and how if we didn’t have donations, how much more expensive tuition could be. With the budget cuts that everyone has heard about and the way higher education is faring in the general economy, right now (donations are) even more important than ever before. As recently as 1991, 48 percent of the UH budget came through state funding. This year, state funds are around only 26 percent. We were not out there asking students to give money; we simply wanted them to understand that the gifts of alumni and friends help us to keep growing, and to offer more and better resources to students that tuition and state monies just can’t cover.”

Students ChattingPhilanthropy Awareness Day was just one opportunity to thank alumni and friends, even UH faculty and staff, for their philanthropic efforts and investments in UH. These efforts affect the campus and change lives every day.

“Thousands of UH alumni have donated to UH, giving students opportunities to make more of their college experience,” said Amy Marks, director of annual giving. “For them, opportunity knocked when their alma mater beckoned, and they have answered, giving students a community in which to enhance their education. It’s alumni confidence in all Cougars that motivates them to give students the gift of opportunity.”

Last year, more than 25,000 generous private donors gifted $103 million. There are myriad ways donations are used, whether they fund buildings, scholarships, fellowships, endowments or specific colleges or programs. No matter the gift, each has a direct and immediate impact.

“Gifting to UH is a unique opportunity,” said Nancy Clark (’76), director of development in the Office of University Advancement. “I picture my gifts helping my grandchildren’s grandchildren. This helps me understand the vast importance my small support can make to help students today achieve their dream of higher education.” Clark gives regularly to UH through the annual Faculty and Staff Campaign. During Philanthropy Awareness Day, Clark took the special opportunity to snap photos of donations that had been highlighted for students with gift bows and tags, sharing these with the donors who funded them.

A prime example of the impact of private giving is the 39 TierOne Scholars the university welcomed this past fall — the first class of such students. The UH TierOne Scholarship is a distinguished, high-profile award intended to attract highly qualified students to the University of Houston. President Renu Khator created the program using dollar-for-dollar donations to match a generous $7 million anonymous gift, with the intention of attracting top-tier students to the university. These scholarships are available to outstanding first-time-in-college freshmen and cover tuition and mandatory fees for up to five years of undergraduate study. There are still matching funds available to those wanting to donate to this effort.

“The fact that this generous scholarship is available to such a broad range of students makes this an incredibly kind gift,” said Tyson Adams, a UH freshman who graduated from Harker Heights High School near Killeen. “The kindness that this TierOne Scholarship brings has not gone unnoticed by me, and I’m sure every other student has realized the magnitude of what this has done for them. It’s an absolute honor.”

With the University of Houston recently designated in the top tier of research universities by the Carnegie Foundation and appearing for the first time in The Princeton Review’s “best colleges” guidebook, there is no better time to make an investment in UH.

“Our students ... can say with pride they are getting a Tier One education,” said Khator. “They will finally be able to take their diplomas and say ‘I have graduated from a Carnegie Tier One university.’”

And students can now say with understanding that they have been supported by UH alumni and friends.

“The reason we have achieved [Tier One ] now in 2011 is sheer perseverance and absolute quality and excellence of the university and the community,” said Khator.

Thank You Banner

A Genuine Connection
UH Alumna Praises a Student’s Sincerity.

by Kelli Gifford

At the University of Houston Call Center, students strive to make a connection with alumni — and one afternoon, junior Tijuhna Green did just that.

College of Technology alumna Maryann Pringle (’87) answered her phone — which she sometimes doesn’t, she says, when she knows it’s one of “those calls” — and Green was on the other end of the line.

“I’ve gotten these calls from UH and another university before, but she didn’t just read a spiel or sound like a salesman,” Pringle said. “She was so genuine— what a great example for UH students.”

Green, a philosophy major, has been working in the call center since her freshman year.

“Initially I decided to work for the call center because of its convenience (on campus),” Green said. “I've continued to work there because I enjoy speaking with the alumni. I've learned a lot about various issues from alumni, and it’s also allowed me to network as well.”

Pringle said Green visited with her for several minutes about UH and the changes on campus.

“She asked me how long it had been since I'd been on campus, and invited me to come back to visit,” Pringle said. “She told me about the new Tier One status and how proud they were of it, as I am. The last thing she did was sweetly ask me if I'd like to donate money, but told me money wasn't everything. They at UH are interested in a relationship with their alums and that was most important.”

Though Pringle didn’t choose to give during that call, she called the Office of Annual Giving the next morning to praise Green and made a commitment to give at that point. When Green heard about this, she found it “exhilarating and surprising.”

“It’s nice to know someone genuinely enjoyed my call,” Green said. “I never thought that an alum would call the office after one of our calls to give a compliment. It just reassured me that I was doing a good job.”

Kelly Robbins, UH Call Center manager, said Green continues to exceed expectations and goals — she is the first caller to raise more than $75,000 for UH.

“She has an incredible work ethic, and I can always count on her to help out when needed,” Robbins said.

The UH Call Center also is a good source for alumni to find out what’s going on at their alma mater.

“The students will fill you in on the exciting happenings at the university, and you can also use the opportunity to ask questions and feel more connected,” said Amy Marks, director of Annual Giving.

Love for Music Drives Donation

Texas Music Festival Enthusiast Gives Where Her ‘Heart is Beating.’

by Kelli Gifford

Sheila JohnstoneAlmost as soon as she was born, Shelia Johnstone’s mother — a jazz pianist — was teaching her daughter to play the piano. Johnstone became a concert pianist at age 9 and is still a concertizing duo pianist. Even though her career took her on an unrelated path, this deep-seated love of music never waned.

Johnstone, who has a degree in molecular biology, was on the faculty of two medical schools — the University of Miami and Washington University in St. Louis. She also was president of her own business, which did medical research consulting for law firms across the country. She retired three years ago after more than 30 years in the business.

In 1995 when Johnstone first moved to Houston, she was seeking out avenues to hear live music in the city and came across the University of Houston Moores School of Music’s Immanuel & Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival, and she immediately fell in love. She has eagerly anticipated it every year since, and ultimately decided to name the festival as a beneficiary of retirement assets in her will.

“I started attending the Texas Music Festival as soon as I became aware of its existence,” Johnstone said. “Not only was it producing really beautiful music, but what it is they do — gathering all these students from all over the world and how meaningful that is — it’s just amazing.”

The Texas Music Festival, founded in 1990 to provide summer musical training and performances for talented young musicians worldwide, offers full tuition and housing fellowships to all participants. It attracts nearly 600 applicants to fill its nearly 100 spots in the Orchestral Training Institute and component institutes for voice, piano, jazz, and its Classical Minds Guitar Institute and Competition.

I felt that if I really wanted to honor the school in any way, it would be to give exactly where my heart is beating, and that would be the Texas Music Festival,” Johnstone said.

When she first witnessed the festival, she said she was in awe. “I could not believe my own ears. The sheer number of participating musicians and the amount of music covered during the festival completely fills your heart. The accomplishment is immense.”

The festival, which attracts visitors from all over the world, reaches an estimated audience of 6,500 each summer through its venues at the Moores School of Music, Texas A&M University’s Presidential Conference Center, the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion and its numerous outreach performances.

“The Texas Music Festival is so important because you see these kids, and they’re working hand in glove with someone they didn’t even know the day before,” Johnstone said.

When she was planning her will, she felt that since the money she was bequeathing was earned in and around education that she wanted to give back to something academic, “and there was no contest as to what kind of music group in this town I wanted to donate to. Just no contest.”

“You would be lucky in your lifetime to hear orchestras play like this,” she said. “It’s the whole ball of wax. There’s feeling in it, beauty, and the hunger to excel.”

To find out more about the Texas Music Festival, which takes place this year from June 4 to July 2, visit the website at For tickets to concerts and events, call the UH box office at 713-743-3313.

Supporting the students at UH through beneficiary designations of retirement assets and bequests in the will, as Johnstone did, can be a very simple process. For more information on this and other types of planned gifts, contact the Office of Planned Giving at 713-743-8680 or or visit