Founders scholarship gala unites donors, recipients


The Comstock Memorial Union ballroom was filled to capacity Friday night for the Founders Scholarship Gala. Alumni from both past and present years came to the event to support the scholarship.

The Founders scholarship was started in 2006 by current president Edna Szymanski in conjunction with her inauguration. Since that time the scholarship has given over $90,000 to 38 recipients.

This year was the largest number of recipients in the scholarship’s history, with 13 students each receiving $2,500.

The scholarship and the yearly event are sponsored by the Alumni Foundation. Anna Miller, director of annual giving, and Courtney Weatherhead, part of the marketing and communications office, co-chaired the event.

Along with collecting money for each ticket sold, the gala raises funds in multiple ways. There was a silent auction available for people attending to bid on Dragon themed items. There was also a cash bar, provided by Speak Easy restaurant.

Along with those money raising efforts, there was a mystery wine sale. Gala goers could purchase an unknown bottle of wine for $35, with actual values between $15 and $100. There was also a table pledge contest, with a mystery prize to the two tables that gave the most money.

The gala hosted some significant faces from the Fargo-Moorhead area. David Tack, MSUM alumnus and professor in the school of Teaching and Learning, was emcee for the night. He had the honor of introducing Cory Elmer, president of the Alumni Foundation board. Tack also introduced Kerstin Kealy, an MSUM alumnae and current anchor for WDAY. Kealy was a past recipient of the Founders Scholarship.

President Szymanski gave a brief but heartfelt speech, recognizing that this year’s event would be her last as president. “I’ve been privileged to be a part of this community … Tonight’s event is about our students, and I look forward to hearing about how wonderful it is for many years to come,” Szymanski said.

After dinner two of this year’s recipients gave short speeches on what winning the Founders Scholarship means to them.

The special guest speaker for the night was Mark Lindquist, a world-touring entertainer who boasts roles in the popular TV shows “Lost” and “Hawaii Five-O,” and the film “Battleship.” He founded his own LLC, and recently presented at TEDxMinot and TEDxGrandForks.

Despite the extravagance of the night, the goal of the gala was to recognize the hardworking, deserving students of MSUM.

The Founders Scholarship is need-based. In order to be considered for the scholarship, students must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher and be taking at least 12 credits in the semester. Along with these requirements, students must write an essay. The office of financial aid chooses recipients based on their ability to meet the requirements and their amount of need. The number of recipients varies each year depending on how much money the Alumni Foundation was able to raise. This number has been steadily increasing each year since the event began.

This year the recipients of the scholarship represented students from a variety majors and all class standings at the university.

Julie Eisenlohr, a fall 2013 graduate with a degree in Mass Communications, was one of the 13 students chosen to receive the scholarship this year.

After receiving a letter in the mail explaining she had been chosen for the scholarship, Eisenlohr said, “It was a relief knowing I wouldn’t have to take out as many student loans as I normally would have in order to pay for tuition for my last semester.”

Eisenlohr explained that she almost didn’t apply because she felt her chances of being picked were not very high.

“When I first read the requirements I thought that I would probably not be chosen since there would probably be a lot of other students applying for it. I decided to apply anyway.”

Alyssa Visby, a junior Elementary Inclusive Education major, was also a recipient this year. She said the Founders Scholarship “stood out” to her when she was researching the various scholarships MSUM offers.

Over the summer, when she received the letter telling her she had been chosen for the scholarship, Visby, “ … called my mom, and I was so excited. I remember I was alone at my house, and I couldn’t stop smiling. I was in shock and so grateful.”

The topic for this years’ essay was “Why is a college education important to you? How will you use your educational experiences to make the world a better place?”

Visby called on past experience to help her compose her essay. “I felt the essay was easy for me to write,” Visby said. “I talked about past professors and my eighth grade teacher, who passed away unexpectedly while I was in his class. The impact they had on me was what made the essay easy to write.”

Jessica McCarlson, a junior English major, was also a 2013-14 recipient of the scholarship and was surprised to be chosen.

“When I was in high school, I didn’t receive very many of the scholarships that I had applied for and just assumed that I wasn’t good enough. But college has been like a fresh start … Because the founders scholarship is need based, it means that there are people out there who care about the education of all students, not just the ones who seem like the most obvious first choice for scholarships,” McCarlson said. “Getting a scholarship of this sort is like someone telling you, ‘I see how hard you’ve worked; keep it up.’”

Eisenlohr, Visby and McCarlson all enjoyed attending the gala.

“It was really nice to see so many people come to the event in support of the great students of MSUM,” Eisenlohr stated.

“I have been to similar events before, but nothing like this. Uniting donors, recipients, faculty and parents was a unique, rewarding experience,” McCarlson added.

Visby agreed. “It was an amazing experience,” she said.

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