The Colgate Scene
March 2007

Capturing Colgate's story

[Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]
Meet Jim Elrod '76, Chair, "Passion for the Climb: The Campaign for Colgate"

Day job: Managing director, Vestar Capital Partners

After hours: Lives in Riverside, Conn., with his wife, Amy.

Colgate family members: sons Chris '04 and Parker '05, cousin Charles Rice '63

Colgate service: 15 years on the Board of Trustees, 10 years on the Alumni Corporation Board of Directors. Member, Society of Families Steering Committee, Presidents' Club Membership Committee. Active volunteer for advancement and career services. Received the Alumni Award for Distinguished Service and Maroon Citation.

Student involvement: Alpha Tau Omega, Maroon-News, Outing Club, rugby

President Rebecca Chopp and campaign chair Jim Elrod '76 talk about "Passion for the Climb: The Campaign for Colgate."

The theme of this campaign is "Passion for the Climb." What does that phrase mean to you personally, and in terms of the campaign?

Rebecca Chopp: Passion is a great term for Colgate; it's an emotion, but it's also about skills and hard work and confidence. The climb suggests that there is always forward movement.

The phrase reflects our physical location and the beautiful campus, where every day the students and faculty and staff climb up that hill. And it describes Colgate people. I really appreciate that the essence of our passion is not only fulfilling and meaningful and moral — it's lots of fun. Our faculty are passionate about their teaching and their research. Our students gain confidence from the many opportunities to learn critical thinking, practice their people skills, and try different things. And our alumni step forward — in the professions, building communities, having families. They are successful, and they are also responsible citizens who give back to Colgate and to the world.

"Passion for the Climb" captures the fundamental story of Colgate.

Jim Elrod: In my case, it was an English professor, Joseph Slater, who ignited my passion for learning. I had academic capabilities, but they didn't emerge until I had that one-on-one engagement that can happen at Colgate.

RSC: While campaigns are about raising resources for needed projects, they are also a time of connecting and telling our story. Generations of students since 1819 have had the passion to climb the hillside of their lives, their communities, their professions.

JE: Rebecca put her finger on it. It's about the connection with alumni who see that their Colgate education is still relevant today. They like giving back to something that still works.

Why does the university need this campaign now, and what do you hope it will do for the educational experience Colgate offers?

JE: We have a strategic plan that people really believe in, with bricks and mortar, endowment, and programmatic elements. To realize its vision, we need to fund it.

The focus of this campaign is on endowment, which by any metric is what keeps Colgate from climbing that hill more quickly. This is a campaign about making it possible for the most qualified, gifted kids to experience a Colgate education. Successful fundraising will make a huge difference, because it's going to affect more people on campus, in very direct ways.

RSC: Absolutely. We have a generation of students looking for schools like Colgate, so we were well positioned when the board set about to create the strategic plan, which was a careful analysis of what needs we had to address and what opportunities we could realize.

This is a campaign first and foremost about preparing students for the 21st century. The only way to ensure that the quality of our education continues is to have a healthy and robust endowment. Endowment is the gift that keeps on giving, not only to current, but also to future, students. There are many things this campaign will accomplish for our Colgate family. Gifts and investments generated will expand our academic resources, sustain and even improve our residential life and athletics programs, and build our capacity to award financial aid to those who need it.

This is the most ambitious campaign ever undertaken by Colgate. Why are you confident that it will be a success?

RSC: I think that Colgate and other liberal arts schools face a quite daunting challenge. We know from experience and research that the most important thing, academically speaking, for undergraduate education is faculty and student engagement in a supportive and challenging environment. Not only does it provide the best context for mastering critical and creative thinking, it is also the best way to create leaders. But having small classes where students can learn to engage with one another, and residential opportunities where students are challenged to create their own theater productions, clubs, or political groups, is an expensive way to deliver education. To continue to be leaders in our global 21st century, Colgate and other residential liberal arts institutions will have to build their endowments to ensure this type of education continues and is accessible to all who can flourish in this environment.

Colgate is a very ambitious place even though we are underendowed in relation to many of our peers. We're also carefully managed, and far more efficient than most schools. Our alumni are very engaged. From people who can give $13 a year to those fortunate to have much larger resources, I sense that everyone understands that every dollar is a great investment in the future. Thanks to Jim and the board, as well as our staff and many alumni volunteers, we have a well-organized campaign, and that, too, leads to success.

JE: It's going to succeed because it's a cause worth supporting. We've articulated where the money will go and what it will be used for, and it withstands great scrutiny. When I look at what I'm giving to Colgate I feel really good because it is a cause that deserves my support.

Campaigns are a time when the university seeks major support from individuals for specific projects. But what about the many alumni and friends who are not financially able to make large gifts?

RSC: For me, a campaign is about a time of connecting, belonging, and remembering how important education has been to us. At the end of the day, the resources are about a dollar, plus a dollar, plus a dollar, plus a dollar. So every dollar is truly an investment in the future, and as Jim says, also a way of giving back.

Lives are changed when for $200 a faculty member and a student go to New York City and participate in a conference. Or when a young urban person has a chance to climb in the Adirondacks; that doesn't take a big dollar figure, but maybe that's where the light bulb comes on.

JE: Gifts at any level will help make a difference, and participation really does matter in terms of attracting support from outside sources, such as foundations. They want to see that the people who have been touched in the ways Rebecca described still feel that connectedness.

What excites you the most about the coming years here?

RSC: We're going to be even better prepared to build leaders. People who come from Colgate are very smart. They have incredible people skills. They know how to build communities and organizations. They have a good sense of the moral and ethical.

More than ever before, the world needs leaders who have benefited from our kind of liberal arts university education — and we are poised to be a leadership institution.

JE: I can say that since my graduation, it's a fundamentally better place, but it's not a fundamentally different place. Colgate people want to improve themselves and their communities, but always seem to remember where their roots are.

How can we make Colgate better, and yet retain the values that have always made the place unique? The campaign and the strategic plan will enhance and accelerate that process. I'm very excited to be part of it, and I think others will be, too.

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