Excelsior: The Gifts that will Keep Giving

By this time, many of the facts and figures have made the rounds: Excelsior: The Campaign for Hamilton lifted the curtain at the end of 2004 and lowered it on June 30 of this year, having raised $183.3 million — an unprecedented investment in the College's students, faculty, operations and future by Hamilton alumni, parents and friends. Excelsior reached its $175 million goal six months early, making a dramatic and immediate impact on the campus and passing an ambitious series of milestones along the way:

  • The two most generous fiscal years of giving in the College's history, $30.8 million in 2006-07 and $24 million in 2007-08.
  • A record number of donors, 17,476; in all, 75.3 percent of Hamilton graduates contributed.
  • The largest single gift in Hamilton's history, $10 million in support of a new arts complex, from Wendy and Keith '50 Wellin.
  • The largest endowed professorship in the College's history, $2.5 million from Elizabeth and Joel '65 Johnson P'93, to establish the J.W. Johnson Family Professorship in Environmental Studies.
  • The continued and crucial growth of the Annual Fund, with alumni participation exceeding 50 percent for 27 consecutive years and more than half of all donors increasing their gift amount in 2007-08 as yearly contributions surpassed a record $5.8 million.
  • Record gifts from the senior classes of both 2007 and 2008 — a 97.6 participation rate from the Class of 2007 and a $52,290 gift from the Class of 2008 to establish the Environmental Endowment Fund.

Taken together, such numbers provide dramatic evidence that the grand tradition of giving back to Hamilton is in good health across many generations. They illustrate the regard in which alumni continue to hold the College. And they suggest that, while proud of Hamilton's academic legacy, alumni also recognize that continued excellence is not a matter of standing fast, but of moving ahead with planning, timing and vision. Jeff Little '71 P'04, who chaired Excelsior as well as the 1996-2001 New Century Campaign, puts it simply: "I think it all speaks to the incredible loyalty of the alumni body, which is without peer," he says. "And that goes for parents as well. It's an amazingly supportive and interactive community."

The fact that 75 percent of graduates have contributed "is just staggering, one of the things we're most proud of," says Greg Hoogkamp '82, former chair of the Annual Fund. "Nothing else is a better measure of alumni commitment."

The key to Excelsior, though — and to the 21st-century Hamilton that it is helping to shape — may lie not only in the numbers, but in an observation by President Joan Hinde Stewart at the public opening of the campaign, on Dec. 3, 2004. "The campaign that we are launching here today," Stewart said, "aims to change the physical face of Hamilton without altering its soul." That turned out to be a prescient look at exactly how Excelsior would transform the Hill's resources and operations — even the campus landscape itself — while safeguarding Hamilton's legacy, raising its profile and continuing to build its reputation.

Within the four-year college career of a single student, Excelsior has fundamentally transformed Hamilton's facilities and resources. Every member of the campus community now feels the impact, from arriving at the Office of Admission and Financial Aid in the renovated and rededicated Siuda House, to attending classes in cutting-edge classrooms and labs in the expanded Kirner-Johnson Building and Science Center, to doing research at Burke Library, to taking part in wellness and adventure programs or simply having fun at the Charlean and Wayland Blood Fitness and Dance Center and the Outdoor Leadership Center. And the creation of nearly 70 endowed scholarships and professorships, the funding of dozens of student internships, and the current planning for arts facilities and an expanded Emerson Literary Society will bear Excelsior's legacy far into the future.

Gifts Larger and Larger

While high-profile gifts and long-term projects draw the headlines during a campaign such as Excelsior, another fundamental measure of a campaign’s success lies in its capacity to meet current needs — particularly the financial-aid needs of students — in a flexible way that responds to the demands of the year, the day, the moment. 

In that regard, the Annual Fund has played a critical role in Excelsior by delivering support where and when it is needed. “One of the wonderful things I have learned is that our alumni take enormous pride in Hamilton’s long tradition of being a college of opportunity,” says George Baker ’74, current chair of the Annual Fund. “They respond most favorably to the idea of helping worthy and talented students with financial aid, so that they too can come to Hamilton and experience the College as a gateway to their own success in this world.”

Emily Chamberlain ’10 understands the impact of that largesse. Thanks to the Joseph F. Anderson Internship Fund, established in honor of a 1944 Hamilton graduate who served the College for 18 years as vice president for communications and development, the sociology major was able to spend the summer in an unpaid internship, doing work that not only gave her valuable experience but also shaped her career plans. “It enabled me to peek into the legal profession before launching into a law school education that I may have not been interested in,” she says. “Luckily, I absolutely loved my time working for the Hon.William K Sessions III in Vermont and have decided to pursue law school.”

Doing an unpaid internship with a U.S. district judge would not have been possible without the College’s support, Chamberlain says. “I don't have the resources to support myself for a summer without some sort of income, and the Anderson Fund allowed me to have that income and work at a job that I was truly interested in and changed my life.”And she’s not alone, she says; such support is “incredibly valuable for current Hamilton students and generations to come.”

As unrestricted gifts, contributions to the Annual Fund “help offset the gap between tuition and the actual cost of educating Hamilton undergraduates,” says Jon Hysell ’72 P’04, director of Annual Giving. The fund provides, on average, one dollar out of every four that Hamilton spends on scholarships. Over the course of Excelsior, the Annual Fund has contributed about $37 million to Excelsior — every penny of it readily available for a range of needs.

This “pooling of many gifts,” Baker says, represents “the power of collective giving”—a power that is further reflected in the growing roster of Joel Bristol Associates, supporters who have made provisions for Hamilton through estate plans or planned gifts. Over the course of Excelsior, the ranks of Bristol Associates grew by 37 percent, to 585 total members. “Planned gifts provide the College with the ability to predict cashflows that might be relied upon to meet ongoing operating needs,” Baker says. “Working together, the Annual Fund and planned giving represent extremely valuable elements of Hamilton’s total funding picture.”

New Learning Spaces

Jeff Little notes that while the focus of Excelsior has been the construction and renovation of campus facilities, those projects are inseparable from Hamilton’s academic mission. “I was even more convinced of this at the recent trustee meetings, when we were given a tour of the new Kirner-Johnson Building,” he says. “The technology and improvements are so different from the learning environment that I experienced when I was at Hamilton. It’s the technology that the professors are able to teach with; it’s the layout of the classrooms, which is much more interactive.”

Baker has seen this evolution from several sides—as a student, as an active alumnus and the current chair of the Annual Fund, and now as a distinguished lecturer in government. He too underscores the relationship between the learning experience and the environment in which it takes place. “The essentials of good teaching are timeless, but that is not to say the techniques of good teaching do not evolve and improve over time,” Baker says. “In many ways these techniques involve improved or newly invented technologies that take learning to a whole new level of possibility — whether in the sciences or the liberal arts. By and large, the construction of facilities at Hamilton has been governed by a strong notion that these new facilities should materially enhance, broaden and intensify the student’s learning experience.”

That’s not a coincidence, says Christophre Georges, professor of economics, who directed faculty planning for KJ early in the renovation process. “The reality of Phase One of the new KJ has turned out to be remarkably close to what we hoped to accomplish,” he says. “The on-campus building committee spent a great deal of time determining what functions we wanted the building to provide and how specific program elements could serve those functions. We also traveled to other campuses to learn from the successes and mistakes made by other schools in recent academic building projects.”

And the importance of stateof- the-art facilities does not end at the classroom door. Dave Thompson, director of the Blood Fitness and Dance Center and campus wellness, points out that the center, opened as the campaign reached its midpoint, has fostered a new interest in and commitment to healthy living on campus. “Happiness, performance and quality of life on the Hill are surely tied to the level of our collective health,” he says, noting that more than 300 users pass through on an average weekday and “visitors are consistently wowed.”Over two years, Thompson says, the center “has become exactly what we’d hoped—the focal point for fitness and wellness on campus.”

The campus makeover underwritten by Excelsior is not complete, of course. A record $10 million gift from Wendy and Keith ’50 Wellin and a $2.5 million gift from Eugene Romano ’49, both dedicated to facets of a new arts complex, will eventually serve the arts at Hamilton in much the way that the Science Center and the expanded Kirner-Johnson now serve the sciences and social sciences. “I believe in putting the ‘arts’ into liberal arts,” Keith Wellin said on the occasion of the Wellins’ gift.

Professor of Music Sam Pellman, faculty coordinator for the planning of arts facilities, notes that "student interest in arts courses and activities is as high as or higher than ever,” but that “our arts faculty and their students continue to struggle with spaces that simply weren’t designed for the programs that we currently offer and those we hope to offer in the future.” As in many fields, technology that encourages collaboration is a key to tomorrow, he says: “In particular, the proposed Studio for Transmedia Arts and Related Studies will provide the place and the resources for artists, musicians, dancers, designers and other faculty and students in a broad range of disciplines to work together.” 

Hoogkamp ’82 adds that such facilities are also critically important to the College’s appeal. “At the end of the day, if we want the best students in the country and the world,” he says, “places like KJ, the Siuda House and the Fitness Center help us compete.”


Excelsior: The Campaign for Hamilton

  Goal Pledged
Current Programs $40,000,000 $51,954,975
   Unrestricted Annual Fund   36,672,504
   Current Expendable (Budget Assistance)   918,464
   Other Current Expendable    14,364,007
Facilities 60,000,000 38,574,863
   Kirner-Johnson Expansion/Renovation 7,500,000 2,943,934
   Emerson Literary Society Renovation 5,000,000 6,804,226
   Athletics 10,000,000 10,553,054
      Fitness Center/ClimbingWall/Dance Studio 5,000,000 5,440,565
      Squash Courts 4,000,000 3,485,848
      Sports Medicine Facility 1,000,000 347,684
      General Athletic Facilities   1,278,957
   Arts 37,500,000 12,490,465
      Theatre 13,200,000 1,955,487
      Studio Arts 11,400,000 215
      Gallery/Museum 12,900,000 17,000
      General Arts Facilities    10,517,763
   Other Capital Facilities   3,905,790
   Undesignated Capital   1,877,394
ENDOWMENT   75,000,000 69,523,899
   Student Financial Aid 35,000,000 24,998,079
   Faculty Professorships 15,000,000 9,812,650
   Career Center Internships 1,000,000 1,705,753
   Diversity Initiatives  2,000,000 72,028
   Town/Gown Fund  1,000,000 674,070
   Arboretum Fund  1,000,000 201,371
   Art Programming    769,942
   Unrestricted/General Purpose  10,000,000 1,983,092
   Other Special Purpose   10,000,000 22,309,920
   Library    5,258,828
   Other Faculty Support    1,738,166
Federal and State Grants and Contracts   15,938,455
Awaiting Designation   7,318,405
Ecvelsior Campaign Total $175,000,000 $183,310,597
June 30, 2008    

Looking to Tomorrow

The creation of the new Science Center around the façade of the 1925 Science Building, the ongoing expansion of the Kirner-Johnson Building, the renovation of the Molly Root House as the new home of the Art History Department, and the planned revitalization of ELS all underscore Excelsior's commitment to melding tradition and innovation in ways that best serve Hamilton's community of scholars.Now, as the College looks deeply into the future, the focus remains on that balance, but it also turns more fully to the needs of tomorrow's students.

The conclusion of Excelsior leaves Hamilton "in a great position," Little says, "but clearly we will be challenged — just as all institutions will be challenged— by what's going on financially. We have great needs and will continue to have great needs, particularly in the area of scholarships."He and Baker emphasize that the competition for the best and most deserving students is subject to changing demographic forces. "Competing for new pools of students— defined geographically, culturally and economically — is the reality all colleges and universities face in the 21st century," Baker says. "Hamilton will have to be in position to provide tuition and other financial support if we are to successfully compete for the best students and remain the college of opportunity that has been Hamilton's proud tradition for almost two hundred years."

But they also agree that the College's alumni and friends are up to that challenge. "People love Hamilton," Little says. "They relate to the wonderful experience they had there. They made lifelong friendships there, they formed lifelong relationships with professors. They treasure the memories. And they are therefore very happy to give back to this place that they consider a second home.

Contact Information

Stacey Himmelberger

Editor, Hamilton Alumni Review
198 College Hill Road
Clinton, NY 13323
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