By Meghan Feir

On Saturday, April 23, 2016, MSUM will once again be hosting an event targeted toward raising money for need-based, merit, academic and athletic student scholarships. Previously known as the Founders Scholarship Gala, the Spring Scholarship Gala is the university’s biggest fundraising event and directly impacts the lives of students across departments.

On a seemingly regular school day, Tomi Thompson got a call from her cousin, MSUM Mass Communications Department Secretary Wendy Olsgard. Deadlines were approaching for scholarship applications and the encouraging cousin knew Thompson was more than qualified.

Fast forward to 2016. With tears in her eyes, the senior, double-majoring in broadcast journalism and integrated advertising and public relations, explained how receiving scholarships made it possible for her to accept an internship with the Minnesota Vikings last summer.

“Getting a scholarship for me was huge,” Thompson said. “I had to pay to live in Mankato for a month for the internship, and I couldn’t have a job while I was there, so my scholarship basically paid my way.”

Thompson is no stranger to hard work and pays as much for her own education as she possibly can by working in the Dragon Athletics department and at a bar in downtown Fargo, often working until 2 a.m. This story is replayed in so many students’ and alumni lives as they struggle to make ends meet, the overwhelming debt piling up as they often only make enough to get by.

The reality of educational costs and student loan debt is staggering. As MSUM Alumni Foundation Board President Scott Nelson ‘74 recalled of his own experience, “I was proud of the fact that I had paid for my own education, and it wasn’t until many years later that I discovered that the Minnesota state taxpayers actually paid for about two-thirds of my college education,” a luxury that took a sharp turn for the worse years ago.

When President Anne Blackhurst was enrolled at the state university where she earned her bachelor’s degree, times were also different. As she pointed out, most things cost less in 1978, and tuition was $400 per semester, the majority of educational costs being publically funded.

“Although it seemed like a great deal of money at the time, most of the students I knew were able to afford their tuition by working part time and, if they were lucky like me, receiving some financial support from their families. I feel incredibly fortunate that I graduated in four years owing only a debt of gratitude—instead of the financial debt that burdens so many of today’s students,” President Blackhurst said. “Whereas two-thirds of the cost of my education was publically funded, today’s students and their families must finance the bulk of their ‘public’ education themselves. The resulting debt has been described as crippling, both for college graduates and for our national economy. Meanwhile, public universities struggle to make ends meet without increasing tuition.”

Universities across the nation have had to raise tuition to stay afloat, especially with enrollment down across the board. The linked problems are a destructive cycle that needs renovating, but the dire need for education doesn’t sleep in the meantime.

“MSUM has a history of being scrappy and resourceful,” President Blackhurst said. “In our 127-year history, we’ve successfully navigated the evolution from normal school to state university. Along the way, we’ve had to make tough choices about how to best serve our students, their families, and their communities while being responsible stewards of scarce financial resources.”

Nationally, 80 percent of college students work while going to school, and 85 percent of all full-time students require financial aid in the form of scholarships, grants and loans in order to earn their degrees.

“Financially, it helped me so much because you never really understand how big of a problem money is until you’re all on your own and have to provide for yourself,” said Sarah Knight, a senior studying integrated advertising and public relations. “I’m very proud that I can do that, but it’s hard. It’s an awesome thing to know somebody else cares about your education and wellbeing as a person.”

The stories of donors’ generosity in students’ lives are endless, and, like a giant sigh of relief and gratefulness, each story illustrates the impact someone made in another’s journey toward discovering their calling.

“When you’re a student, scholarships mean so much and make such a huge difference,” Thompson said. “Being in school at MSUM has given me the skills that allowed me to be qualified to even get the internship and has given me unbelievable connections for my career ahead.”

Michelle Bruer, a freshman studying business administration and an honors apprentice at MSUM, has already received scholarships for her academic success.

“My parents went here, my grandparents went here, my cousins went here, and one of my mentors went here, so I knew MSUM was able to produce some amazing people in the world,” Bruer said. “I’d like to thank the donors for all they’ve given, whether it’s been an annual thing for them or a one-time gift, everything counts. Students really do appreciate it because it helps them realize their passions and start their careers out at MSUM.”

Although it’s not clear what direction public funding for education will take, what is certain is that every gift toward student scholarships makes it undeniably more manageable for students to succeed.

“Thank you isn’t even enough to say to the donors who make these gifts,” Knight said. “When I say thank you, I just want to cry.”

RSVP for the Eighth Annual Spring Scholarship Gala today. Tickets are $75 ($35 tax-deductible gift). As a thank-you to MSUM employees who already make a major impact in students’ lives, we’re offering a discounted rate of $40 per ticket for you and a guest.

For a full list of event details, including live and silent auction items, visit mnstate.edu/gala.