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Zags Give Day lets community show support for higher education

From left, Kristin McNeley, a program manager at Gonzaga University, Stephanie Rockwell, director of individual giving and Carlo Juntilla, GSBA President, will all be a part of Gonzaga Universitys Day of Giving. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
From left, Kristin McNeley, a program manager at Gonzaga University, Stephanie Rockwell, director of individual giving and Carlo Juntilla, GSBA President, will all be a part of Gonzaga Universitys Day of Giving. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

What is to be done when much-loved accounting professor Eddy Birrer retires from Gonzaga University after 34 years? Simple – create a scholarship in his name and ask the community to help fund it.

The School of Business Administration Eddy Birrer Scholarship is one of 12 funds at Gonzaga University the community can donate to today as part of Zags Give Day. People can also give to the general scholarship fund, the athletic scholarship fund, the study abroad program, science labs, internships and a project to put solar panels on the roof of the Office of Sustainability building.

Kristin McNeley, a 2016 Gonzaga alumna who works as the university’s program manager for the annual campaign, said scholarships were essential for her. She was the first person in her family to go to college and her parents couldn’t afford to help financially.

“I definitely wouldn’t have been here without scholarships,” she said.

In addition to Gonzaga, she also applied to community colleges.

“Gonzaga was my dream school,” she said.

McNeley said she cried when her financial aid award letter arrived and she learned that she would be receiving enough scholarships to attend. She said she was blown away by the fact that someone who didn’t know her believed in her enough to help her fund her education.

Now McNeley is eager to pay it forward and help raise money for scholarships so other students like her can attend Gonzaga.

Zags Give Day was a low-key affair to raise money for the general scholarship fund when it started four years ago, but it has steadily gained steam since. This is the first year donors have 12 options from which to choose.

Senior Director of Advancement Operations Stephanie Rockwell said last year’s event saw nearly $250,000 in donations from 1,440 donors. The college isn’t looking for big donors, Rockwell said, but rather people who want to give $20, $50 or $100. The goals for each of the 12 funds are based on the number of donors, not the amount raised. This year organizers are hoping to attract 1,887 donors, a number picked because it is the year Gonzaga was founded.

“That’s the spirit of the day, to bring in as many donors in one day,” Rockwell said. “We want our Gonzaga alumni, friends and parents to be part of the giving story and make a difference.”

Larger donors have already given challenge money. If a fund reaches its donor number goal, an additional donation will be unlocked. The first $1,500 in donations to the general scholarship fund will be doubled. Information about all the funds is available online at www.gonzaga.edu/zagsgiveday.

The Student Professional Development Grant is a new fund created by student body president Carlo Juntilla. The goal of the fund is to pay for interview attire, fees for certification exams, or conference fees, “things that hold people back,” Juntilla said. He particularly wants to help students who are first-generation college students like he is.

“I wanted this to be a message to those students,” he said.

Juntilla is still working on writing the bylaws and creating an application process. The first money may not be distributed until the next school year, after Juntilla graduates. But the program will move forward under whoever serves as student body president next year.

Though the Zags Give Day doesn’t officially start until today, people have already been donating online. The fund attracting the most attention as of Wednesday evening was the Eddy Birrer Scholarship, which had already received 24 donations totaling $3,020. If the fund attracts 100 donors, an additional $10,000 challenge donation will be unlocked.