The memories. The place. The people — these compose the essence of meaningful experience. It’s losing your voice because you’re cheering so loudly with thousands of other Hokies at a football game. It’s walking across the Drillfield on a winter morning, oblivious to the cold because you’re too busy laughing with friends. And it’s the professor who goes the extra mile to inspire you to succeed.

And these are just a few reasons alumni are sponsoring challenges in support of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences on Giving Day 2022, to be held Feb. 23–24. Although the donors’ motivations for philanthropy may vary, one sentiment resonates for all.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Robert Medler, who serves on the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Dean’s Roundtable with several of the other donors. 

Medler is sponsoring his first Giving Day challenge. A 1989 graduate in business, he is a member of the Board of Directors for the Virginia Tech Athletic Fund. The memorabilia covering his home office walls, along with the vintage T-shirts he often sports, display his loyalty to Hokie Athletics. But he finds equal value in academics, so his motivation for giving to the School of Education runs deep. He supports a scholarship he and his father started in his mother’s honor. She was an educator, and because of that, Medler spent a year between graduating from Virginia Tech and starting law school as a teacher’s aide for an elementary school class of children with autism spectrum disorders in Fairfax County, Virginia. 

He saw how limited the financial support was for teachers in kindergarten through 12th grade. That memory has led him to want to help.

“We looked around for the right giving opportunity and thought the world needs more teachers,” he said. “Education is so important. Schoolteachers make so little money, and the eventual goal is to provide for someone else’s full ticket in getting their degree.” 

Medler is challenging others to donate to the School of Education, and once 100 people do so, he will give $5,000 to the fund. 

First-time challenge donors Joe and Laura Jones have a similar dedication to athletics and academics. Their challenge is for the Department of English, even though Joe Jones, like Medler, has a degree in business from Virginia Tech. Once 100 people have made gifts to the department, the couple will donate $2,000.

They are providing a challenge to the department because of their children’s experiences at Virginia Tech. 

“Virginia Tech has always tried to help undergraduates find their way, and the professors are always available to work with them,” Joe Jones said. “And we found that especially true in the Department of English. We would emphasize to our children that by beginning their undergraduate careers in history or English, you learn so much about people. That knowledge enables you to do other things to make your way in this world and contribute to society.”

The couple’s son, Patrick, started as an English major at Virginia Tech. He found his path through guidance from the department. The faculty encouraged him to apply for a one-year writing program at the University of Montana, from which he eventually graduated. Then the couple’s daughter, Maggie DiGuardo, majored in interdisciplinary studies and minored in English at Virginia Tech. She is now a physician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Providing another donor challenge for the Department of English for a third year is Donna Mitchell. She is a first vice president at Morgan Stanley and a 1984 alumna from the department, although she also has a degree in business management from a year earlier. Mitchell will give $5,000 once 140 people have made a gift to the same fund.

“Several people told me last year that my challenge inspired them to step up their donations,” she said. “We’re all in this together. We all do what we can. But sometimes when you dig deep, it encourages other people to dig a little deeper, as well.” 

Also returning are three other past donor challenge makers: Craig Nesbit, Darcy Williamson, and Nancy Munnikhuysen.

“The challenge has allowed me to participate in Giving Day at a slightly higher level,” said Nesbit, a 1981 graduate who majored in communication. “My hope is it gives folks an incentive to support the university by leveraging their contributions. I suspect many people want to contribute but don’t think they can make a real difference. This is my way of saying that every single contribution makes a difference, and I’ll back that up with my own challenge.” 

Once at least 115 people donate to the School of Communication, Nesbit will contribute $5,000 to the school.

Williamson also holds a bachelor’s in communication; his wife, Kathleen, earned hers in business. Both graduated in 1992 and are challenging donors to give to the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. In return, the couple will support the college’s Annual Fund. They will donate $5,000 when 250 donors have given to any fund in the college.

Williamson said his reasons for participating in Giving Day stem from the convergence of the past with the current state of the university.

“All the memories we have coupled with all the amazing things I see going on in the college and the university inspired us,” said Williamson, chief financial officer for Nava, a public benefit corporation. “Virginia Tech is a great school with a great experience. And if this donor challenge can enable someone else to have that same Hokie experience, that would be wonderful.”

Nancy Munnikhuysen, a 1974 graduate in management, housing, and family development, returns with the largest donor challenge. Her $10,000 gift will support student scholarships. Her gift will be unlocked once 500 people have donated to any department, school, or program in the college.

“The college experience is made up of so many life-changing moments and precious memories,” said Laura Belmonte, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. “The college is extremely fortunate to have alumni and donors who remind us of what makes time spent at a university so special. We are so grateful to our Giving Day challenge makers, and hope others will be inspired to participate this year.”

It is this inspiration that is at the heart of Mitchell's drive to continue to provide Department of English Giving Day challenges.

“The most fulfilling thing about being a challenge donor is inspiring others to give,” she said. “It never hurts to have a little kick in the pants from a friend to motivate you to reach a little further down into your pocket!”

Those motivated to make a difference for students in the college can visit the college’s Giving Day page for more information. Giving Day 2022 starts at noon on Feb. 23 and goes until noon on Feb. 24 EST.

Written by Leslie King