The USM Foundation says raising $150 million with its Give Wing campaign will go a long way to improving the student experience at the University of Southern Mississippi.
More than $120 million will go directly to helping students, including $53.5 million in new endowed scholarships.
“It’s all about helping our students succeed,” said Stace Mercier, executive director of the USM Foundation.
The foundation launched the silent phase of the campaign in 2018 ahead of a planned 2020 public phase, but that part of the fundraising was postponed until this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
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The silent phase included reaching out to alumni and supporters, who have already contributed nearly $110 million of the $150 million goal.
Mercier said not all the donors are alumni or have close ties to the university but support the school because it benefits the Hattiesburg community.
“Having a good and healthy university population is important to them,” Mercier said. “The reason for supporting is not about themselves. It’s about being able to help someone else.”
Dr. Cathy Sessums, a physician with Women’s Pavilion of South Mississippi, is an alumna of Delta State University, yet she supports Southern Miss.
When she first moved to Hattiesburg she knew no one but was welcomed by Southern Miss athletics fans who invited her to games and made her feel at home.
“It’s just kinda become my family,” Sessums said. “For a town the size of Hattiesburg, what that university helps us offer as far as the arts, the athletics, the ability to learn more about the world and how it works … Hattiesburg has been very good to me and Southern Miss is a huge part of Hattiesburg. That’s why I’m a big supporter.”
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The university is close to 75% of its goal with a target date in 2025 to raise the additional $40 million — a target that Mercier believes can be surpassed.
“We will continue to raise funds for the campaign through 2025, so we have about 3½ years to reach that $150 million goal,” Mercier said. “And really, we hope to blow past that goal and reach new heights of philanthropy for the university.
“We’re very optimistic, based on the response of our donors.”
Most of the money raised will go toward programs, scholarships and facilities that help improve student success, academic excellence and innovation and discovery. In addition, the university plans to establish endowed faculty professorship and director positions and increase research opportunities.
Other funds will go toward upgrades to existing facilities like Pete Taylor Park and construction of new buildings like the recently-opened center for veterans, the Quinlan-Hammond Hall of Honor.
Alum Joe Quinlan, one of the two men for whom the building is named, said there was an urgent need for the facility.
“In order for us to accomplish it in a relatively short period of time, it had to be privately financed,” he said. “Going through the traditional channels, it may have taken five or six years and Gen. (Jeff) Hammond did not have that kind of time.”
An office set up for military services was too small for the growing veteran student population. Veterans often had to wait outside for their appointments.
Quinlan and his wife made a “significant contribution” to kickstart fundraising for the facility. The couple has made other contributions to the university in other areas as well.
“I tend to reflect on my own time in college, where I struggled financially,” Quinlan said.
He went on to have a successful banking career and wants to help students like him who need help getting through school. But helping the university and its students also helps the community.
“I truly believe Southern Miss is extremely vital to the economic engine of south Mississippi,” Quinlan said. “I believe that great universities don’t just happen to be great universities. There’s a root cause for some of that and it always goes back to the quality and commitment of your alumni.”
In addition to what’s already been raised, the campaign hopes to add $53.5 million in new or enhanced endowed scholarships, $14 million in Eagle Club scholarships for student-athletes, and six newly named professorships for distinguished faculty members.
The campaign also will raise money for entrepreneurial programming, athletic facility enhancements and other universitywide programs.
“We are poised to write the next chapter of our Southern Miss story, University President Rodney Bennett said in a news release. “This is an exciting time. This is our time – our campaign for the University we hold so dear.”
Helping the USM Foundation with the Give Wing campaign includes a number of notable alumni like Quinlan, who is the campaign chair.
Honorary campaign chairs include:
- Singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett
- Emmy Award-winning journalist Chuck Scarborough
- Former NFL football star Adalius Thomas
- NFL Hall of Famer Brett Favre and his wife, Deanna Favre
- News anchor and global correspondent Natalie Allen
For more information, visit givewingtosouthernmiss.com.